Home' Scoop Homes and Art : Insite 27 Summer 2010 Contents INSITE SUMMER 2010 99
artisan UP CLOSE
t’s a world away from a grand old medina quarter in Morocco,
but Robert Cripwell’s manufacturing warehouse and showroom
in Medina shares a vibe with its African namesake. The tile
walls and tile-mosaic tables on show at Labyrinth Mosaics have
a Moorish feel, and sketches on a table reveal an intricate design
challenge of geometric shapes, which Robert describes as ‘zillij’.
“It’s an ancient form of tile-making in Morocco,” he explains.
“It’s... complex. For me, it’s the ultimate challenge.”
But seeing what he’s built from his creative passion and self-taught
skills, you get the feeling no challenge is too great. Four years ago, he
was making tiles in his backyard. Now, he’s flat out working from this
warehouse, catering to customers who want a unique artisan touch.
Shying away from being called an artist, he describes himself as
a tile and mixed-media manufacturer, who works mostly with clay
and glass to create tabletops, floor inlays and water walls, as well
as general and feature tiling in kitchens, bathrooms and alfresco
areas. His f used-glass tiles add a jewel-like touch to wet areas and
the possibilities are endless. “It’s expensive,” says Robert. “Like
jewellery, it’s more of an adornment.”
Robert’s creations range from small tables to whole alfresco
areas, and he’s been commissioned to work on some of Perth’s most
prestigious housing projects and one-off pieces throughout the
State. Customers choose their tiles, explains Robert. “They can come
and scrummage through what we’ve pulled out of the kilns that
morning, or we’ll make specific tiles on request.”
The clay is from the Darling Ranges and is blended locally. The
glass is recycled Australian glass and Robert uses myriad processes
to achieve the encaustic result of the glass inlaid in the tile, either
smooth or with varying intensities of a crackling effect.
Much of his work is based on the Majolica method of glazing.
Deriving its name from the Spanish island of Majorca, it’s an a ncient
tin-glaze recipe that’s a legacy of Moorish Spain. “There’s a massive
spectrum of colours in Majolica,” he says. “The tin glaze covers the
clay, so the colours a re amazingly vibrant.”
Tin glazing was the common method for tile manufacturing until
about 100 years ago, Robert explains. “It all became mass-produced
and modern,” he says. “And because tin is so expensive, it became
common for zircon to be used to make modern glazes opaque. But
“It all became mass produced and
modern... Tile manufacturing
became impersonal and lost that
crafty, arty, handmade feeling.
It beca me predictable”
ABOVEThe artist in his element: “I love the
challenge of the process and improving the
process.” OPPOSITE Rob er t throws a pot in
his warehouse-cum-studio in Medina.
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