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ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (4)

Mosaic man

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Mosaics in Ravenna, Italy

Luca Barberini places the small piece of marble into place carefully but with the ease of an experienced artist. He reaches for another as he chats with me, the motions as natural as breathing. Centuries have passed since the first mosaic makers of Ravenna but the tradition lives on – right now, through Luca. Although the original artists might be a bit shocked at exactly what he’s doing.

“It’s possible to work with an ancient technique, an ancient language, for contemporary art,” he explains.

ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (6)

ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (7)

Here in Ravenna, a small Italian city in the Emilia Romagna region, the mosaic artworks are more than just a tourist attraction. They are at the heart of the history and identity of the community. The oldest works, which were installed more than 1500 years ago, adorn the interiors of Ravenna’s churches and historic buildings.

“We have maybe the best monuments in the world where you can find the ancient mosaics,” Luca rightfully boasts.

ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (10)

It’s not these artworks that Luca is most proud of, though. He is part of the new generation that is using the same techniques with a modern style – fusing tradition with current taste.

“The ancients used the mosaics like a book,” he explains. “So if you go in a church you can see a figure – for example Christ – and you can learn the story like a cartoon.”

“So for the modern they don’t want to use the figurative things so it’s more like…” he pauses to try to think of an example I might understand, “…Pollock, Jackson Pollock.”

ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (2)

Modern mosaic art

Luca works out of his own studio in Ravenna called Koko Mosaico. At the moment he’s in the middle of one of the more abstract contemporary pieces he was just referring to. Look closely and it seems like he’s randomly placing different sized and coloured pieces. Step back and a crowd of people appears from his work, each figure with their own characteristics.

ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (1)

He’s using marble for some pieces, glass for others. The glass is made especially for mosaic art in an ancient oven in Venice. It’s the same way they made the glass two thousand years ago. Some things in this industry need never change, it seems.

ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (3)

For Luca, other than the style of his art, it is essentially the same process. He does only one thing differently. Rather than cutting all his pieces of marble and glass before he starts to make the mosaic, he does it as he goes. It goes against everything the methodical ancients believed in… but boys will be boys!

“It’s casual,” is how Luca puts it. “I want to work in that way without rules, spontaneously.”

ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (5)

Ravenna mosaic art

The art of Ravenna is in the blood of its children. Luca started studying at the art institute of mosaics when he was fourteen and was there for five years. Interestingly, though, he says it was only about five years ago – when he was 25 – that he was able to really express himself creatively.

“I understand just five or six years ago how I explain my personal art in a language – the language is mosaics.”

ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (8)

ravenna mosaics, mosaics of ravenna, italian modern art, mosaic art, koko mosaico, luca barberini (9)

The style of art is world-famous. To the point where the tourists who come to Ravenna come mainly for the art, where Hollywood celebrities have asked Luca to make artworks for them, and a mosque in Oman has commissioned him and his team to make a 600 square metre mosaic for its design.

I wonder what the artists of Ravenna in the fifth century would make of all of this? Would they be more surprised that their descendants are decorating a mosque in the Middle East or finding inspiration for their from Jackson Pollock? Maybe they wouldn’t mind at all. Maybe they would just be proud that the tradition of Ravenna, the legend of the mosaics, lives on.

* To see more about Luca and his work, head to the Koko Mosaico website.
UNESCO world heritage site
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Emilia Romagna tourism board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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15 Comments
  • Andrew | Jun 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    That is really cool. I’ve been to Bologna a number of times and a few other places in the area as well, but not yet Ravenna. I have heard about the beautiful art there though. Thanks for sharing that art with us. I quite like the crowd of people.

    Not anywhere near the same scale, but Freiburg old town has mosaics too. All modern and much bigger pieces,but outside a lot of the businesses are meter wide mosaics of what the business does.
    Andrew recently posted..3 Things We Learned From 3 Months In Bavaria, GermanyMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm

      You’ll have to try to make it to Ravenna. It’s a gorgeous little place!

  • Angela | Jun 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Wonderful, I love forms of art that can blend modernity and tradition so well. I’m proud to say that Italian artists are masters in this ;)
    Angela recently posted..Descending Su Gorroppu, Sardinia’s spectacular canyonMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 15, 2012 at 11:10 pm

      The Italians have certainly got a very proud history of art – and it’s great that there are so many people adapting it into contemporary works these days.

  • Bret @ Green Global Travel | Jun 12, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    This guy’s work is pretty incredible! I’m not much of an artist– can’t draw, paint or sculpt very well– but I’ve always enjoyed working with Italian mosaic tile and have created some nice picture frames and jewelry boxes. His stuff definitely takes the artform to the next level.
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..How To Avoid The Downsides Of Frequent TravelMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm

      Yeah, it’s beautiful, isn’t it. It’s a pity the photos don’t even do the work justice. The best way to see mosaics is in person.

  • Nancie Mills Pipgras | Jun 13, 2012 at 4:33 am

    Wonderful interview with one of my favorite contemporary mosaic artists. His work is always an engaging combination of classical techniques, artistic vision and a delightfully whimsical, human sense of humor. He was named Best in Show and was one of only eight artists selected from a field of several hundred for Mosaic Art NOW’s Exhibition in Print 2010. Your article shows why! Here is a link to more on Luca http://www.mosaicartnow.com/exhibits-2/mans-exhibition-in-print/eip-2011/
    Nancie Mills Pipgras recently posted..Where’s Pablo? The Mid-Century Mosaics of PicassoMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks for all that extra info, Nancie. You’re right about the sense of humour in his work. You don’t normally think of mosaics being ‘whimsical’ but he’s managed to bring a sense of fun to a lot of the work.

  • Nancie Mills Pipgras | Jun 13, 2012 at 4:34 am

    So sorry! Wrong link to Luca’s article. My apologies http://www.mosaicartnow.com/exhibits-2/mans-exhibition-in-print/eip-2011/

  • Carol | Jun 15, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Fascinating! How I wish I’m as artistic and creative as you Luca!
    Carol recently posted..learn how to photograph like a proMy Profile

  • How to be authentic | GeoPosted | Jun 20, 2012 at 2:27 am

    [...] (Time Travel Turtle) finds out about mosaics in Ravenna, Italy and learns how to make [...]

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica | Jun 21, 2012 at 2:16 am

    I love tile mosaic art. There used to be a shop in downtown Columbus that offered an open class/ art workspace once a week. I was a regular, and lots of my friends and family were forced to display the artwork I gave them as gifts :-)
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..My New Addiction in Bolivia… and My Favorite DealerMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 22, 2012 at 3:00 am

      What lovely patient friends and family you must have! :p
      It is a beautiful art form, though. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated it properly before but I have a newfound admiration for the mosaic!

  • luca maggio | Jun 30, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    beautiful post! I know for some time luca barberini: he is brilliant as a man and as an artist! This article captures well his essence, his smile which means positivity, energy, life and artistic creativity.
    good life for both! luca maggio
    luca maggio recently posted..Elogio della collezioneMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jul 3, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      Thanks for your comment! It’s been so nice to hear from everyone who knows Luca. Everyone seems to only have nice things to say – both about the work and the man.

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