Art on Tile

Art on Tile

About The Artist

Justine Tot Tatarsky • Woodacre, CA

I am a life-long, self-taught artist who has spent decades working with ceramic glazes on terracotta tiles, exploring a wide range of subject matter with a medium that has traditionally been purely decorative. The expression in my work ranges from whimsical and romantic to serious and intellectual, but is unified in style by my bold, flowing line-work. My love of color - bright and dramatic or subtle and nuanced - also defines my art, and my palette is nearly unlimited. My partner, Clive, and I make editions of my artworks in limited series, drawing and painting each of them entirely by hand, and kiln firing them at our home studio in rural northern California. We mount my work on wooden backs for hanging, or leave it unmounted for installation. My work has been incorporated architecturally, indoors and outdoors, in both private homes and public spaces.


Artist website

Q&A with the Artist

Tell us how your work is made.

I begin by drawing on one or more unglazed terracotta paving tiles, laid out as a 'canvas'. As my hand follows rhythms in my body and breath, forms emerge, and stories unfold from an origin that is mysterious to me. I use thin wooden sticks to spread low-fire glazes between the drawn lines, sometimes layering different glazes. Ceramic glazes are homogeneous pastel tones until transformed by firing into their intended vibrant colors and textures, so a lot of visualization is required when choosing colors. In our electric kiln, fired at 1825 F, my line drawing burns off to reveal a recessed terracotta line between the glazes, a signature aspect of my work. To produce editions of my artworks, Clive and I create templates from the finished originals, transfer the line drawings by hand to blank tiles using carbon paper, then glaze them according to my color scheme and fire them as described. While editions are very similar, hand-glazing and vicissitudes of firing make each unique.

What makes you passionate about the medium you work with?

I enjoy the sensory pleasure of drawing with pencil and felt marker on the earthy terracotta surface. The luminous depths and beautifully varying hues of glazes are evocative for me. I love playing with contrasts between the glass-like brilliance of high-gloss glazes and those with matte stony textures as well as areas of tile that I leave unglazed. I enjoy the hard work of designing my artworks by envisioning the transformation that will occur when the glazes are fired. I am always met with wonder when lifting a painting out of the kiln where intense fire, my collaborator, has breathed life into the artwork. It's a pleasure to work in a durable, unusual medium that bridges fine art and craft. I love that people can touch the textured surfaces of my paintings, and it's exciting to see people compose their own stories by creatively grouping my artworks, and also see them come up with original ways of incorporating my artworks into their unique personal spaces.

What is something unique about you or your practice?

My tile artwork is unusual because it contains many themes and styles not typically seen in this medium. My imagery reflects my multicultural upbringing (I was born in South Africa and raised in Taos, NM and the San Francisco Bay Area), yet I'm ever surprised at the wide range of eras and cultures people associate my style with. My paintings are peopled by quirky creatures and characters and are life-affirming in their reflection of my love for the power of nature and the radiance of the human spirit. I reflect in my art on what it is to have a female body, its cycles and capacity to nurture, and I'm told my work has a strikingly feminine perspective - though interrelatedness, mutability and the balance of yin and yang interest me more than gender divisions. As well as exploring these holistic concepts through narrative, I convey them by forming images out of negative space and creating images within images, so some of the content in my pieces takes time to reveal itself.