Bobby Silverman thought he wanted to be a social geographer, the study of spatial patterns, investigating how and why we live and work where we do. On the way to getting his degree, he took a detour to Japan. There he witnessed the daily use of beautiful handcrafted objects, born of traditions that were thousands of years old. He became an apprentice to the master potter Samejima Saturo. What might have felt serendipitous at the time was actually, according to Silverman “preordained.” His family had actively collected antiques and decorative objects. The Japanese ritual of utilizing art that was functional felt familiar to Silverman.
Out main illustration shows ‘conTEXTual Red translated to Bar code’ (11.75” x 11.75). More on the ideas behind this is a second.
“With an intimate understanding of the medium and its process, I tend to think of solutions that are idiosyncratic to the material.” Working out of his Brooklyn studio, Silverman established Alsio Design, named for the components of clay-alumina, silica and oxygen.
The illustration above is William Carlos Williams translation to Braille of “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” (36” H x 60” W) Private Residence
Silverman utilizes complicated glazing techniques to achieve translucency and emulate gravity. In the Shoji series the diffuse applications of color create a diaphanous lyrical surface. Employing drips, the abstract floral motifs appear to both bloom and wilt, evoking the passage of time. Like the painted Shoji panels Silverman discovered in Japan, the tiles integrate the artistic and functional, a critical component of Silverman’s work. This is Shoji –red, gold, drip 2 (24” x 24”).
The Versailles Collection melds Silverman’s consummate skill by utilizing the technical and aesthetic properties of ceramic. Taking three years to develop, the elegant tile is realized only in metallic glazes, which maximize the reflectivity of the dimensional effervescent bubbles. Light catches each rounded orb, a toast to the 17th century royal chateau where the treaty was signed to protect the provenance of French champagne. A Versailles tile in Black Metallic (12” x 12”) is shown above.
Silverman explains, “The Braille, Morse, Binary, and bar codes all reflect a fascination with the visual representation of information, a manifestation of my interest in geography and art.” He creates phenomenological based designs integrating the sense of touch. Braille tiles celebrate poetry and color. A proposal for the MTA subway, a visulisation is shown above, integrated Morse code translations of the approximate 180 nationalities that live in Queens. The floor tile merged stories of immigrants translated in Braille. Silverman mandated tiles for the vaulted ceiling similar to Spanish architect Rafael Gustavino’s patented technique. The purpose of this rich and tactile design was to celebrate the immigrant population that uses the subway daily. Braille and Morse code are two visual interpretations of language added to the multiplicity of native dialects spoken by commuters. Amidst this mecca of culture and narrative, Silverman still seems intent on understanding our connections to place. His ceramic tiles, elevated to artistry, provide the patterns.
“Tileista” is a monthly column that explores the beauty of artisan tile. JoAnn Locktov is the author of two books and numerous articles on contemporary mosaics. Her public relations firm Bella Figura Communications represents creative individuals and businesses in design, architecture, art, and travel. Follow her musings on Twitter: