A word about black and white tile floors. If you look at computer generated images of the Villa of the Mysteries, specifically the triclinium, you often see that the original sharp tonal contrast has been restored to the pattern of alternating black and white floor tiles. When you’re standing in the actual space in Pompeii, the tonal range of the tiles has been dulled, reduced to a few shades of grey, by time, wear, and most notably, the eruption of Vesuvius.
As every student of color learns, a focal point is created when one’s eye perceives a great contrast between light and dark. That contrast can be created by illumination, hue, or tone. The eye goes there, to that place of change, involuntarily, as if you’re in a darkened space and someone flicks on a flashlight. That’s where you look, where the light meets the dark. This is one of the greatest tools in an artist’s kit. By placing focal points strategically in a painting the artist can direct the viewer’s eye and attention spatially and thematically, giving guidance as to what takes precedence over what.
If we skip ahead in time from first century A.D. Pompeii to 17th century Holland, we’ll find Vermeer, a master practitioner of focal points and perhaps the greatest painter of black and white floor tiles ever. Almost a third of his oeuvre displays these beautifully patterned surfaces. In some paintings a wide swath of tile leads you into the space of the room; in others a mere sliver of black and white patterning hugging the edge of the canvas suggests the existence of a room-size tiled floor underneath all the furniture and carpeting.
Patterning, which is nothing more than shapes repeated predictably across a surface, can organize the space of that plane by imposing measure; by implying depth through perspective; and by energizing through color and tonal variations what might otherwise be a rather flat, uninteresting expanse.
A black and white tile floor comprises the central bottom half of my large wall mural. I’ve tweaked and fiddled with the perspective to heighten the narrative I want to create – impending imbalance, dislocation, and chaos as Vesuvius erupts. I’m hoping that the black and white patterning will draw the viewer into that scene and enhance the sensation.