Kenneth Budd book coverBUDD MOSAICS – The Public Art Mosaics of Kenneth & Oliver Budd by Oliver Budd

The tiles, the techniques and the tales…

Those of us who were riveted by Brian Bull’s autobiographical Mosaics: the secrets, tools and techniques (Triton Books 1976) will welcome this book likewise. Brian Bull and Kenneth Budd were complete masters of their art, which was first and foremost the art of making large public mosaics. And here we have Kenneth’s son Oliver, himself a master mosaicist, giving a detailed, informative and entertaining account of how his father and he created some of the finest mural mosaics in Great Britain – indeed, in the world.

Beginnings are always interesting: Kenneth Budd (1926-1995), descended from a family of blacksmiths and farriers, was early attracted to large scale mural painting, though his first job was as a graphic designer. Then in 1961 he began assisting with projects in cast concrete bas-relief. But he wanted to work with colour also, and of course we know that painted outdoor murals don’t do well in England. Enter mosaic… Kenneth’s first commission was for a 60ft x 15ft (!!!) abstract mosaic for a grammar school in Kettering, Northamptonshire. He was off…

Work flowed in, starting with two biggies for Birmingham. Kenneth, highly practical, like all true pros, soon decided that given the tetchy English climate it would be best to make the bulk of the outdoors mosaics indoors. So he invented a technique of prefabricating the mosaic in his studio on aluminium mesh panels, with Bal Flex as the adhesive. In fact several Budd designs feature cast concrete bas relief that incorporates areas of mosaic.

Young Oliver helped his Dad in the school holidays, naturally, but started working full-time for him when he was 22; and in 1979 Oliver was first credited officially. That was for the mighty Rock Strata Wall in Telford New Town, Shropshire - “Artist Kenneth Budd, assisted by Oliver Budd”. They worked together as partners for years, and when Kenneth died in 1995 Oliver continued building the firm up into one of the most successful in the kingdom.

It’s tempting to describe project after project, but as the “Mosaicography” at the back of the book lists 73 of them perhaps it’s best to take my word that this superb book, with its wealth of colour photos, project histories, personal anecdotes and technical insights is a must-have for anyone interested in the art and craft of large-scale modern mosaic.

I’m allowed to have a favourite Budd work, and it’s the vast Birmingham Horsefair mural, in smalti. At one stage of my life I walked passed it every day for weeks and never ceased to marvel, especially at the astonishingly lifelike portrait of Alderman Thomas. How can a few chunks of glass recreate the face of a human being? Well, that’s the art of mosaic at its greatest…

Paul Bentley

Alderman Thomas mosaicBACK AND FORTH – A Millennium Art Project

DVD about the Oliver Budd Millennium mosaic project in Otford, Kent

This is an invaluable record of how the village of Otford in Kent decided to commemorate the Year of Our Lord 2000 by commissioning Oliver Budd to make a mural mosaic for the High Street.

It starts rather scarily by letting us in on Oliver explaining his final design draft to the committee. Moving from left to right the design shows selected highlights from the history of Otford – from a pterodactyl at the dawn of time, through early man knapping flints, the Bronze Age, Roman Britain and Boadicea, the Anglo-Saxons, King Canute (everything is dated naturally), Thomas Becket, the Elizabethans, on and on, to Victorian Otford, the coming of the railway, the car, and finishing with a mother picking apples from a local fruit tree and handing them on to the next generation.

The border round the mosaic, due to be made of polished cement fondu, shows many more objects from the story of  Otford – bridle, camera, credit card – dozens of them.

It’s no surprise when the committee approves; after all the design brilliantly incorporates a great many of their ideas. The whole village approves likewise at another meeting, and so off to Oliver’s studio.

There we watch the whole business of scaling up the design onto the studio wall, protecting it with transparent polythene, covering it with metal mesh and then applying the tesserae – mainly smalti and cut tile. Oliver then embeds large squares of the mosaic in metal trays for ease of transport and fixing. We also get to see how to make the light but strong cement fondu border, a medium which was new to me.

With two panels fixed on the wall of the church hall (to encourage fund-raising to complete the rest of the mosaic on time) Oliver tours local schools, explaining what the show is all about.

Finally we have the official unveiling, in January 2001. Yes, they made it.

You couldn’t ask for a clearer exposition of how Oliver Budd goes about his creating and installing one of his excellent mosaic murals. A highly recommended DVD.

Paul Bentley

We would normally put a review like this into our book section, but we thought this article was worthy of a feature page entry. for details of the books ISBN number and other details pplease check out the book pages.

Andy Mitchell


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