There’s nothing like local artwork to welcome you to a new place and give you a sense of its history, heritage and culture. Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, all of these things are entwined with the North Atlantic – and thanks to three pieces by mosaic artist Vessela Brakalova (co-founder of the design studio Vis-à-Vis Graphics, with Veselina Tomova), visitors to St. John’s International Airport have the opportunity to soak in the beauty and significance of our marine environment in a new way.
“Rich Waters (Sharing the rich waters of the North Atlantic, #1 and #2)” and “Destination: Portrait of St. John’s” were commissioned with the assistance of Business & Arts NL and funded by Marco Group, Colliers Project Leaders, and John Hearn Architect Inc. They were officially unveiled on July 10 at the newly expanded Departures Lounge. For Brakalova, who immigrated to Canada in 1990, this place of departure and arrival holds special significance. She took some time recently to chat with Business & Arts NL about her life and latest work.
Business & Arts NL: According to your bio you were born in Sofia, Bulgaria, left as a refugee in 1990, and your experience at Gander International Airport was your introduction to Canada. Taking that into account, how did it feel to be selected as the artist whose works will greet passengers at the newly expanded St. John’s International Airport?
Vessela Brakalova: I feel humbled, as I have become one of those mosaic pieces in the tapestry of great Canadian content. I also feel lucky for the opportunity to have my digital mosaic installations on permanent display at the new YYT Airport departure terminal. And this is all possible because 28 years ago, Canada opened her doors and allowed my wildest dreams to become true. My son teases me that I haven’t made it any further than the airport.
Business & Arts NL: Over the years, you’ve become quite well known for your mosaic works. Can you tell us a bit about the approach you took here with regards to the design of these three pieces?
VB: The three digital works are inspired by my mosaic practices. It was fun trying to envision what the work would look like if it was made from glass pieces. I’m fascinated by the mosaic medium because to me, this old art form represents a reincarnation of the value of “slow” against the nowadays value of “instant” gratification. This technique requires a steady focus, a mindful patience and an incredible persistence. Just like the old masters.
The size of the finished work presented some challenges. It was important to use a technique that enables me to create large files without being GB heavy. I chose a vector design program, which permits me to manipulate each of the colour pieces separately. The established grid of small colourful squares creates a sense of movement, which deepens the liveliness of the work, provides dynamic flow and great camouflage for hidden treasures.
Creating the map was fun in its own way. This is not my first map of St. John’s Harbour, but it is the scale that encourages me to play with more details. The city is loved by so many people! I took extra care to pay attention to rich details and local characters.
Business & Arts NL: Two of your three pieces are a great homage to our marine environment. How did you settle upon this theme?
VB: The work was to be surrounded by deep blue tiles…it was obvious. As Islanders, we are surrounded by the vastness of water, which sometimes we take for granted. It was the existence of the water that constituted the existence of this place. When one departs from St. John’s Airport, no matter which direction, one always flies over water.
“Sharing the rich waters of the North Atlantic, #1 and #2” is the figment of my imagination, what the underwater scene would look like. My daughter, a passionate ocean scientist and adventure diver, has given me a lot of inspiration. Through her eyes, I have been many times in my imagination diving deep.
Business & Arts NL: With the airport serving 1.5 million passengers annually, there are going to be a lot of eyeballs upon your work. Is there a certain feeling or sentiment you’re hoping to evoke within those who view these pieces?
VB: (With) the scale of the work and its playful interpretation, I like to give travellers of all ages a moment to pause and reflect on the uniqueness of the place they leave behind.
To read more about the unveiling of Vessela’s work at St. John’s International Airport, click here.