Ewan Collins

Ewan Collins’ first job installing mosaics took him underground. “I was asked to work for New York City’s transit authority art program, and I did mosaics for the subway system,” he says.

Collins, 38, encountered mosaics while studying art history at Hampshire College, when he took a course in Byzantine art. Mosaics fascinated him, and after graduating he headed for the Mosaic School in Friuli, Italy, where he studied the historical and technical aspects of the art form. “It was a four-year program taught in Italian,” he says. “I knew enough Italian to get by, but it was definitely a sink-or-swim situation.”

Collins, who was born in Vietnam, opened Collins Mosaics in Portland almost 10 years ago. While most of his pieces are made to order, he likes to explore different mosaic techniques. The Madonna (see p. 14) is a 30-inch-tall copy of a painting by 17th-century Italian artist Guido Reni. “Everything in it is linear cut,” he says. “There are neither big or small pieces. Usually, this classical style uses a reverse method, which means the surface is smooth.”

Collins used contemporary techniques to create a 32-by-36-inch version of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (below). “It’s more modernistic,” he says. “It has a combination of big and small pieces, and the texture has a lot of highs and lows, and more play of light.”

Where a mosaic will be displayed often determines which materials he uses. Collins works with Venetian glass, gold leaf, marble and tile, which are then attached to a backing with mortar or cement. When he isn’t working at an on-site project, he creates his mosaics in a corner studio with light from two walls of windows.

“Every project is a new experience,” he says. “There are always surprises. Pleasant surprises and, sometimes, disastrous surprises, but that’s what makes it interesting.” The Reni and Klimt mosaics cost $6,000 to $12,000 depending on the client’s specifications.

Contact mosaic artist Ewan Collins through his studio, Collins Mosaics, at 503-236-5210.