Artist Becky Paton has captured the regality of Tudor fashion in a patriotic mosaic depiction of Queen Elizabeth 1st. Noting Lizzy as ‘The Queen of Bling’, the portrait glitters in royal blues and golds. Yet looking closer, the piece is in fact embellished with recycled and found debris; as Becky sources such as plumbers’ washers, fossils, shells, old buttons and even shards of broken car windows to create her pieces. Think of it as a ‘magpie’ sensibility.
Old Tat speaks to Oxford-based Becky about her piece; an ironic yet stunning marriage of ‘rags’ and ‘riches’. How do you bring modernity to such a traditional art form?
It’s the same adage for all art forms, as long as you know and are able to execute the basic rules and principles then you can adapt and explore the medium. I’ve always been fascinated with collage which goes hand in hand with mosaic. This approach to my work allows for a wider use of materials, resulting in a fresh and more unusual finished mosaic.
You mention that your pieces are recycled and found pieces. What does this add to any piece of art?
I’m like a magpie, I collect and hoard anything that could be useful in my work. I may not use it for years but then suddenly it is the perfect component for a piece work and provides a richness that couldn’t be achieved from tesserae alone. I save broken jewellery, plumbers washers, fossils, shells, old buttons and, my favourite, broken car window. Those beautiful little piles of blunt smashed glass at the side of the road are heaven to me. Needless to say, I always travel with a dustpan and brush in the back of my car.
Tell us about the inspiration behind ‘The Domination of Queen Elizabeth the 1st’
The Queen is the first in a series of mosaics depicting warrior women. The Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty, was a huge inspiration. His love of the natural world and its incorporation into his clothes was breathtaking, plus his reworking of historical fashion trends and bringing them bang up to date with cutting edge sharpness and finesse was genius. His use of Swarovski crystals was a major factor into the subject matter of my first portrait. I wanted the mosaic to be ‘the Queen of bling’ with hundreds of crystals and there was only one woman who could fit that description: Elizabeth the 1st.
Can you describe the process of creating the piece, start to finish? Also, how come you used Tilda Swinton as reference for ‘the face’?
The mosaic needed to be big and quietly dominate the wall space it was to inhabit so I decided on a circular base. I knew that within my designs there would be enough detail, such as the hair, Tudor roses, ruff and orbs, to inform the viewer of the identity of the subject and allow me free reign to choose a ‘face’. I wanted the portrait to look directly at the viewer, with an expression of kindness and compassion mixed with steely determination and dominance, enter Tilda Swinton!
The Queen’s hair was a perfect opportunity to use a few of my ammonites in the work. They lent themselves perfectly to her tight regimented curls and colour. Overall, I wanted the design to look like a piece of exquisite vintage couture clothing, aged and fraying at the edges but with a unique beauty that would stand the test of time.The hardest part of the mosaic was getting the skin right, I used ceramic tiles to give the skin a powdered look and stand out from the glass tiles. If the skin fails then the mosaic as a whole fails, I spent two days reworking her face. When all the tiles are laid and the grout applied, most mosaicists are finished. Not me. This is when I start adding the Swarovski crystals, more washers, gemstones and pearls and anything else that seems appropriate. I never know how much work will be required at this point. There comes a moment, when standing back and looking at the work, you just know it’s finished.
Would you say the royal aesthetic is lavish? How does your style lend itself to this?
It certainly used to be, not so much these days. My style harps back to the good old days of sparkle, opulence and luxury.
Would you say you are patriotic?
Not so much patriotic, more a fan of Regal Tudor fashion.
Keep an eye on Becky’s Instagram for progress shots of her latest pieces.
Words by Alice Freeman