Transformed by Tiles
(Page 3 of 3)
But tiles are distinct from mosaics. Although tiles have sometimes been made to look like mosaics (particularly, it seems from the chapter in this book by Susan Tunick, in the United States), in general their paths do not cross over. For a start, a mosaic is always made of stones. Tiles are made out of fired clay. And mosaics are not painted on - while tiles frequently are.Skip to next paragraph
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There is a tradition in the use of tiles over the centuries that runs counter to the repetitive-unit concept. It might be called the pictorial use of tiles - tiles conceived as panels on which a large image might be painted, ignoring the edges of each tile. A panel of tiles was seen as a rather permanent way of attaching a picture to a wall. One example of this shown in Van Lemmen's book is an enchanting painting of Jack and the beanstalk, one of a series of panels from the children's ward in old St. Thomas's Hospital, London. It is in the tradition of tiles used as a support for a picture, the tiles themselves more or less disappearing under the overall image. These panels were saved when the old building was closed, and have today been incorporated in the new hospital.
Although it is true that tiles have suffered from all forms of destruction over the centuries, the obverse is also strikingly true, that in some cases tiles have shown an extraordinary capacity for survival. The tiled interior of the Pfund Dairy in Dresden, Germany, is a remarkable case in point: It survived the terrible bombing of the allies in World War II.
In some places today, there is a growing awareness of the need to conserve notable tile schemes, to view them with pride and see them as part of a cultural heritage. Sometimes old schemes have been hidden for one reason or another: in ecclesiastical buildings during the Reformation, for instance; or because of fashion, only to be uncovered in more appreciative times. The extraordinary Art Nouveau tile schemes in the food halls of Harrods department store in London were hidden behind false ceilings for a while. Now they are once more visible in all their glory.
ALTHOUGH this book concentrates on strikingly decorative tiles and tile schemes, it might have mentioned perhaps the importance of plain tiles with a little more emphasis. There are a couple of plates of post-modern buildings in France and Germany in which entire exteriors are covered in a skin of one-color tiles.
The modernist ideas of earlier 20th-century art and architecture also used tiles in their own way, as simple geometrical units of color and shape. Tiles do not have to be over-patterned and excessively decorative. Nor do they have to be thought of as cosmetic, as merely a surface, though in fact that is what they are. They also have a kind of honest, down-to-earth quality; they are, after all, made of clay.
Since the 19th century's industrialization of tiles, there have been various reactions in the form of handmade tiles. These craftsmans' tiles have contributed in their own way to the development of the tile as a sensitive art object, having a kind of integrity that machine manufacture cannot achieve.
But tiles seem, in the end, to be whatever their makers and users would like them to be. Something of their adaptability is suggested by a quote in the book from American architect-designer Squire J. Vickers.
He wrote in an article of 1919: ``If a little color be needed, enrich the rough and rigid surface with bands or plaques of tile.... It may be used with restraint to soften a facade even as a piece of tapestry tempers a wall of stone, or if it be desired to emphasize any feature a plaque of joyous brilliant color may be placed which will shine resplendent like a rich jewel roughly set.''