From the Film Set to the Mosaic Studio With Artist Manuel Mathieu

In this edition of "Source Material," the Haitian-Canadian artist takes us behind the scenes of his recent projects.

In my studio in Paris during my residency at Cité des Arts with Art Explora in 2023. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Renaud Labelle.

Manuel Mathieu has a multi-faceted and deeply ambitious practice, experimenting with everything from painting to scent and large-scale ceramic installations. He addresses historical violence and erasure in his works, as well as spirituality and consciousness. Many of his pieces invite a response in their viewers that moves beyond a sense of cognitive understanding, as the artist plays with emotional frequencies in a process that is instinctive for both him and his audience. He has been represented by Pilar Corrias since 2022.

Mathieu has recently found innovative ways of combining painting and ceramics, working on a vast mosaic mural made up of five panels. Le Mont habité [The Inhabited Mountain] will run through the Edouard-Montpetit REM station in Montréal, Canada. The piece reflects the landscape that sits outside the station, which tunnels through Mont Royal Mountain. He released his first short film, Pendulum, last year. Since a 2023 residency at Paris’ Cité des Arts with Art Explora, he has also developed three perfumes, further expanding the material and sensory potential of his practice. Here, Mathieu takes us behind the scenes of a Montréal ceramics workshop; into the Paris studio that kickstarted his interest in scent; and onto the verdant set of Pendulum.


photograph of a woman and two men looking at a printout on a table in a studio

Manuel Mathieu (left) and Saskia Siebrand (middle), Creative & Technical Director of Mosaika Art And Design) discussing the project at one of their ceramics studios in Montréal, Canada in 2023. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Jeanne Tétreault.

When I first approached Saskia with my initial concepts for the mosaics, she sent me back to refine them three times. Her profound understanding of mosaics was evident, and together, we aimed not only to translate the content of the images but also to push the medium to places it had never been. The idea is not to reproduce but to transcend, bridging ceramics and painting to create a new language. In each new mosaic, I have discovered with Saskia’s team how seductive the medium can be, holding a complexity that echoes through my paintings, drawings, and ceramics.

photograph of manuel mathieu hand touching his mosaic piece

Manuel Mathieu at Mosaika studios, Montréal, 2024. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Jeanne Tétreault.

Mosaic is not only visual but also a deeply tactile experience. Here, I am engaging with a large custom mosaic piece in progress. When I learned that I was selected as one of the finalists for the commission, I immediately went to Mosaika and spent days looking at samples and asking questions. I really wanted to put together my own set of samples, something different from what they had done it in the past, in order to create something unique and captivating in my own way. It helped me a lot in understanding the process and the many steps required to create an image from many little pieces. At that moment I got familiar with textures, the depth of the colours, and the infinite possibilities that the glazing offered.

photograph of mosaic panels organized by glaze

Glazing studies selected by Manuel Mathieu, produced at Mosaika studios in 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Manuel Mathieu.

These are some of the first samples that I put aside before starting the project. Knowing these tiles would be broken, I had to learn to see them as a whole, but also as something that can be part of a bigger image. I am used to travelling between the micro and macro in my paintings, so I was familiar with that mechanism of back and forth. That visual maturity that I acquired over the years helped me to preserve the painterly feel of the mosaic, the surprising compositions, and the presence of the gesture combined with the complexity and depth of the glazing. Considering that I also use glazing in my ceramics, it felt like everything was coming together to create the perfect combination.

a digital collage of manuel mathieu's paintings, drawings and ceramic works

One of the five images to be translated into mosaic; a digital mix of Manuel Mathieu’s paintings, drawings and ceramic works. Digital collage, 2022. Courtesy the artist.

abstract ceramic work by manuel mathieu

Manuel Mathieu, ceramic work produced in Jingdezhen, China, 2019. Courtesy HDM Gallery.

It was important for me not to copy an artwork into a mosaic. I spent weeks putting collages of my painting, watercolours, and ceramics together to create unique interpretations of the different languages that I have been working with over the last few years. I was making brushstrokes with the glaze itself. Working at this scale, it feels like we are inside the strokes; we are carried by them in the space. This blue comes from the first blue I used in China in 2019 during my first attempt at ceramic.

digital rendering of the Édouard-Montpetit station of the Réseau express métropolitain with artwork on the walls

Digital rendering of the installation proposed by Manuel Mathieu: Le Mont habité [The Inhabited Mountain] in the Édouard-Montpetit station of the Réseau express métropolitain (REM). Courtesy the artist.

Le Mont habité was commissioned as part of an important expansion of the Montreal public transit system. The station will be dug deep within the Mont-Royal, a mountain at the heart of the city and a major landmark of its urban landscape. In my mind, these image-mosaics that are inside this mountain of gabbro are coming out of the rock itself. I studied microscopic images of that material. Its complexity of forms and textures served as the starting point for the organisation and creation of the mosaics. I wanted to involve an intrinsic continuity between the history of this mountain and our experience of the site. The creation of a mosaic is a complex process of alchemy, transforming simple materials from the earth into intricate artworks. My idea was to amplify nature and not to compete with it.

photograph from behind of artist manuel mathieu looking at his work layed out on the floor

Manuel Mathieu at Mosaika studios, Montréal, 2024. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Jeanne Tétreault.

Here I am inspecting the latest mosaic creation in February 2024. It’s the first time that I created a work on this scale. Like all the tiny pieces of mosaics, I work with a team that gets together to express one vision. The most similar experience I have to this is when I was directing my short film Pendulum (2023). Today, I feel that I can create public mosaic installations around the world and use them to feed people’s imagination. The public nature of commissions heightens my awareness of how art can accompany individuals in their daily lives. Like a tree in the middle of the forest, I will slowly become part of their subconscious.


birds-eye view of a largescale mosaic piece in a studio

Mosaika studios, Montréal, Canada, 2023. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Jeanne Tétreault.

A bird’s-eye view of the first of five creations in production, also featured in the digital rendering. This is the first mosaic to be completed. In the picture, we are seeing it together for the first time. It was only at this moment that I realised the scale of the project. This is one of the smallest mosaics in the series. 

photograph of artist manuel mathieu in a field of grass sitting down with headphones

On the set of Pendulum in 2022, my first professional short film as director, producer, and writer. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Jeanne Tétreault.

Pendulum explores the delicate balance between the past and an uncertain future. At its core is a woman knowledge keeper, who carries her most precious legacy, the liberation of her soul. This legacy initiates a spiritual choreography where a group of men confront the complexities of their humanity and master their own freedom.

My time in Paris rekindled my passion for drawing and provided an opportunity to delve into olfactory experiences. During this residency, I began creating my first perfume,  île noire. Since then, I have sculpted the bottle and, in collaboration with a renowned nose from IFF, developed three unique perfumes.

photograph of artist Manuel sitting by a window with artwork in the studio in Paris

Manuel in the studio in Paris during his residency at Cité des Arts with Art Explora in 2023. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Renaud Labelle.

Welcome to Source Material, where artists share their creative journeys beyond the confines of the studio. From hunting down frescos in Florence to chasing storms in Cornwall, we explore the eclectic sources of inspiration that fuel artists’ imagination.

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