Guest blog by JoAnn Locktov
Leah Shafir Zahavi grew up in Ashkalon, Israel. As a child exploring this 4,000-year-old city on the Mediterranean, she breathed deeply the aroma of almond trees, listened to the receding echo in the rhythmic arches of ancient aqueducts, and discovered the Milky Way in vast desert skies.
Zahavi’s mother, world renowned mosaic artist Ilana Shafir taught her daughter the beauty in fragments, that singular pieces of chipped, forlorn ceramic held history and mystery that when pieced together could transform themselves into beguiling dreamscapes.
Zahavi’s path to tile artist was not immediate. Her first medium of expression was fiber, which gave her the basis for manipulating texture and understanding pattern.
Working in the humble material of clay, the Inner Piece tile collection is produced entirely by hand in porcelain, stoneware and terracotta, with lead free glazes. The designs, she feels, are cumulative. “They are created through layers of imagery that I build up starting from the green ware and continuing through various techniques of surface decoration between the two firings.” Textured objects are imprinted onto the soft clay, after which Zahavi uses drawing, carving, fluting, and slip inlay to build the final image. The metamorphosis of clay to tile also relies on vivid color, memories of the heaping mounds of brilliant orange spices in the marketplace, the atavistic blue waves of the sea, the salty green grass that stubbornly adorns acres of sand dunes. Zahavi also utilizes Sgraffitto, a technique of ornamentation in which surface layers are incised to reveal a ground of contrasting color.
In addition to tiles in 3, 4 and 6 inch squares, Zahavi has developed a collection of hand glazed free form ceramic tesserae called Inspiration Pieces, intended to be used as embedded elements in mosaics. Her mother was the first to integrate these pieces into her archeological landscapes. Zahavi abstracts forms from the natural world, the pivotal inspiration for all her work.
Zahavi believes that her tiles “can be the gateway for daydream travel, evoking memories of far away places.” Now living in the United States, the tiles and mosaic tesserae are the richly textured celebration of her former life in Israel. The sumptuous Medeterrain colors are balanced intuitively with abundant organic shapes to create a decorative surface cradled in warmth.