First published: Spring 2015
George Ehling is as complex as the mosaic patterns he creates. At 87, he works alone as he has done for 45 years: piecing together scavenged tile to cover a castle-sized home. Ehling’s mosaic work is distinctive for its scope, but also for its playfulness. He is a master “mash-up artist”, like a modern DJ, incorporating classical patterns with modern scrap tile to produce a new language. He cross-pollinates architectural references and global geometric syntax, making an ancient visual grammar buzz with potential.
Main staircase in the foyer after Galla Placidia in Ravenna,
photo copyright Auda & Coudayre Photography, 2011–14
Ehling works alone at his 4,500-square-foot Mediterranean castle overlooking California’s San Fernando Valley, purchased in 1967 with a $9,500 down payment from his father. Ehling allows help only for grouting and rock-setting. He states with pride, “Not one other person has set a single piece of tile on this house”. Like jazz improvisation, Ehling riffs on tradition. Here, a twisting meander of Roman border; there, an optical illusion borrowed from an Islamic tradition. A mad array of tile and glass bottles feels right at home within the vibrant geometric patterns. Any surface might contain scraps of hand-glazed iridised blue tile, angular bits of outdated kitchen floor tile, authentic Mexican Talavera, and a batch of leftover bathroom tiles deposited at the curb by a well-meaning neighbour.
Not all the tile is repurposed. He explains, “The beige field tile is made in England, it was discontinued, and I bought 6,000 square feet at $1.75, including shipping all the way to Anaheim from New Jersey. I cut all the pieces by hand with nippers and a tile stripper, that was before I had my saw. The garbage-can stuff is all the colors.”
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #85