Gila Rayberg is a local artist who creates mosaics and shares her passion all over the world through teaching workshops wherever she goes. In 1989, Rayberg graduated from Arizona State University with a master’s degree in music. She traveled all around the world as a full-time musician, performing and teaching music. Rayberg found herself at a newly established University in Borneo, East Malaysia, where she taught music before returning to the states.
When arriving in the states, she landed in New Orleans where she met her partner, Mark. Rayberg played the trombone for Deacon John & the Ivories until hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. While she was evacuating, she decided to quit music and start creating mosaic art full-time.
Rayberg participates in exhibits regularly throughout the United States and has won numerous awards for her mosaic art. She travels around the states and internationally to teach workshops, specializing in portraits and the up-cycling of dishes. Due to COVID-19, she stopped traveling in March, but offers two online workshops on her website, GilaMosaics.com. Her work is also published in multiple art books. To see more of Rayberg’s art, follow her on Instagram @GilaRayberg_Mosaics.
When were you introduced to mosaics?
When I was a teenager, my sister studied printmaking at Kansas City Art Institute. After graduating, she moved to San Francisco and someone asked her to do a mosaic. That’s when she found out that she loved making mosaics and started to do workshops. I would visit her all the time in San Francisco and would sit in on her classes. I didn’t take the workshop class, of course, but I did learn how to create mosaics from my sister. San Francisco is where I did my first couple of pieces.
What convinced you to quit music and start creating mosaics full-time?
I’ve always had it in my head, even whenever I was teaching overseas. It was like a daydream, a recurring thought, that one day I was going to settle down somewhere and mosaic everything. That didn’t actually happen until 25 years later.
I remember when Mark and I spent his birthday for the first time as a couple, I wanted to do something special. He needed a table for his patio, so I made a mosaic table for his birthday. It was the first time in 20 years that I made a mosaic, and I completely forgot everything my sister had taught me. A year later it totally fell apart. That was in 2000 and we were still doing music full-time.
When hurricane Katrina happened in 2005, we evacuated here in Perdido Key. One of Mark’s friends lived in Perdido, and we used to visit him all the time and would go to the beach every chance we got. After Katrina hit, we decided to move to Perdido Key because we knew we didn’t need to live in New Orleans anymore. While I was evacuated during hurricane Katrina, I decided to quit music full-time and started making mosaic art full-time. That was 15 years ago, and I’ve been doing mosaics ever since.
I saw that you went to Italy and met Poldo, a dog that sparked your interest. Do you travel to get inspiration or is it just for fun?
I travel for work, educational reasons, while having fun and getting inspiration from a different place. I was actually invited to Italy for an international symposium run by a mosaic master, Giulio Menossi. I was one of the nine artists, from around the world invited to participate in the 3rd Contemporary Mosaic Art Symposium in Ploaghe Sardinia. For me to be one of them was an incredible honor. I was like “How does he even know who I am?”
We were all women, and we had 13 working days to complete a 3×2 ft project. We worked from 8 am to 5 pm every day, and it was open to the public, so people came and watched us, especially toward the end. That’s how I met Poldo because he would hang out with us every day.
I noticed on your website that when people request you to do a mosaic for someone special to them, you ask for specific details so you can incorporate that into the piece. Where do you get the inspiration for all the portraits you make?
When I ask for specific details about the person, it helps me make it more special and personable for the family, friend or whoever requests the mosaic. I really focus on bringing out the emotion instead of focusing on the realistic aspect of the image, since I use bright colors and different patterns for the material.
When I’m not creating a portrait for someone else, I get my subject from a group I’m in with other artists. I’m a part of an international group called Julia Kay’s Portrait Party. It’s a community of artists involved in a collaborative project of mutual portraiture.
When you become a member, you send a photo of your face in the group that way other artists can use it for portraits through whatever medium they use.
Is there a specific piece that is close and dear to your heart? What’s the deciding factor on selling a piece or not?
I mean I think they are all pretty close and dear to my heart. I did a mosaic of my niece’s kids from a picture that she sent to me, and I didn’t have to plan it out like I usually do. It was just like it came out of me and created itself.
Everything I create is mostly for sale. Sometimes when I do a piece Mark and I save it for our personal collection, but that doesn’t happen a lot.
I actually just finished a mosaic for our 20-year anniversary coming up. So, I probably won’t sell that one since it’s of us.
You’ve mentioned your process a few times. How do you begin a mosaic?
The prep is longer than the actual act of doing the mosaic. With choosing material, drawing the design, accumulating the supplies, and building the base that it goes on, it takes more time than actually doing the mosaic itself. Collecting all of the supplies I need is time consuming because I use natural materials like stone and slate, or I buy dishes from thrift stores that I like and some local artists give me their extra material to use. When I travel, I like to collect materials wherever I am. When I went to Italy, I came back with Italian glass and learned how to create concrete rocks.
I run out of materials all the time because I might have one dish to work from or scraps from another artist, so it’s all based on the materials I have at the time. When I run out, I add different materials that I think goes well with the piece or the colorways and incorporate it in somehow. I just think of how I’m going to transition into different material. I’ll usually spread out the pieces that way it doesn’t look like I just ran out of that material, and just try to make it work.