We have all heard the phrase, “the eyes can be the windows to the soul.” But for Laurel True, a prolific local artist, you can see that her most recent mosaic work “Three Eyes” has enriched and illuminated the facade of the Shank Charcuterie, located at 2352 St. Claude Avenue in the heart of New Orleans. Bursting with creative expression, this display of mosaic eyes combines mirrors, glass and tile which was assembled in her studio at 2801 Chartres St., True Mosaics Studio, and installed onsite surrounding the windows of the butcher’s establishment.
“I think that glass, tile and mirrors are visual calling cards,” True, co-founder of the Institute of Mosaic Art in California and devoted teacher of mosaic art, said. “I am enchanted with these materials – mirror, glass, tile – and collect things of from urban structures to make artwork. I salvage and use building materials like asphalt that is cut into bits, and then put it next to glass or gold. The contrast of materials is very interesting.”
True has been creating murals and sculptural forms for public, commercial and residential settings in New Orleans for almost 10 years, as well as around the globe for nearly 25 years. She does commissioned work for hospitals, parks, commercial spaces and private residences. However, living in New Orleans, True enjoys making the city of New Orleans more appealing and beautiful with her community mosaic projects and street art.
Another example of a recent community-based project located closer to the River was the vibrant mosaic piece displayed in the Clouet Gardens in True’s Bywater neighborhood. With the community’s support, True shared her talents and created a dynamic mosaic centerpiece with about 50 people from the neighborhood, some of whom had not worked with mosaics. As a result, the community mural mosaic project became the picturesque green space on Clouet Street.
“It was a cool project,” True said. “I saw a bare concrete wall which faces the park and thought it would be a good project. The community support was great around the planning and execution.”
I think that glass, tile and mirrors are visual calling cards.
Amidst the trees and bushes on the corner of St. Claude Avenue and Spain Street, True spearheaded another community project, which involved the recent installation of the 13-foot Lotus Bench. With the assistance of her students during two Creative Placemaking workshops at True Mosaics Studio, and under the instruction of master sculpture Brent Sumner, True covered the concrete sculpture with a vibrant array of colors and designs including eyes dripping with emerald-colored pieces of tile and ceramic.
“I love teaching mosaic art in a non-traditional way, like on the street. I feel very attached to seeing people be creative who thought they couldn’t do it. Creative expression has become marginalized in our society,” True said.
As the Founding Director of the Global Mosaic Project, an organization that provides art education and public art to communities around the world, True has worked and trained youth in Haiti to create beautiful murals as a contribution to the rebuilding of communities after the 2010 earthquake. Her knowledge and passion for mosaic art has facilitated hundreds of mosaic projects in communities around the world, and trained thousands of project participants, students and volunteers in the United States, Africa, Europe, Latin America and Haiti.
The people who are reflected in the artwork see and feel the mosaic piece on a whole another level.
While True received a degree from University of Wisconsin in African Studies, her invaluable experience working on large-scale community projects was under the mosaic street artist Isaiah Zagar in the early ‘90s. As a young adult, True rediscovered her fanciful fascination with eyes while mentoring under Zagar. “Initially, I was working with textiles, fabrics and mirrors,” True said. “Then I saw this architectural mosaic project by Isaiah Zagar and started an apprenticeship with him, learning how to make fantastical mosaics using ceramic and mirror. And I continued to work with tile setters and learned their technique of tile.”
Today, True continues to incorporate mosaic eyes into her community works, namely the Urban Eyes Project. Conceived approximately two years ago, the Urban Eyes Project in New Orleans is a community street art project as well as an ongoing global project involving the creation of mosaic eyes using salvaged mirror pieces. This inaugural series of mosaic murals shaped in the form of an eye are currently located on St. Claude Avenue around Clouet Street. True has received over 500 mosaic eyes from around the world created by various artists. She has also worked with local teens at NOCCA, as well as, participants at her studio to make and create these mirrored, decorative eyes.
“These eye pieces come alive with mirrors,” True said, reflecting on her street art and Three Eyes mosaics. “They are forever changing and moving. The people who are reflected in the artwork see and feel the mosaic piece on a whole another level.”