Life in a mosaic

Melissa Fares –
With an array of thrift store china, humorous souvenirs and handmade tile adorning its walls and floors, the Mosaic Tile House in Venice stands as a monument to two decades of artistic collaboration between Cheri Pann and husband Gonzalo Duran.
“It’s tchotchke heaven,” Pann, 76, said about her kaleidoscopic bungalow. “It’s turned out to be an homage to putting everything possible into cement.”
By “everything,” Pann means figurines of poodles and hula girls, commemorative china baseball bats and a sweeping arch of coffee cups, their handles pointing skyward. Smashed pottery and shards of mirror make up the more traditional mosaic patterns on the house’s interior and exterior surfaces.
The couple met in 1992 when Duran was working at an art supply store and Pann was in need of some acrylic paints. They still go back to the same store to stock up on supplies.
The house is on a quiet little street, a 20-minute bike ride from the beach. Pann bought it in 1994 and wanted to build an art studio in it. The studio is now her favourite spot in the house.
Duran said after the studio was built, Pann made tiles for the bathroom.
“It was so much fun doing it, we just kept on going,” said Duran, 72, who was born in Mexico and raised in East Los Angeles.
Plastic palm trees, empty soda bottles and toy soldiers hang from the ceiling while toothbrushes are housed in a pot embedded in the wall. A tiny doll’s head peeks out from behind the faucet.
Reuters photographer Mario Anzuoni described the artists’ kitchen, which is also Gonzalo’s studio, as being particularly whimsical.
“You want to spend your time there,” he said.
Tiles in the shapes of butterflies, camels and giraffes surround the sink. A ceramic cockerel sits proudly atop the breakfast bar. One of the walls is covered in photographs of the couple. Kitchen appliances are decorated with paint, thanks to Duran.
The collaboration is, Pann said, the ultimate “honey-do” project. She makes the tiles, he lays them. But the teamwork does not stop there.
“He’s busy working, working, working and then I’ll come along and say, ‘Hon, hmmm, there is something wrong and I won’t know what it is.’ And then he’ll take a look back and he’ll say, ‘Ah, I know what it is,’ and then he’ll fix it,” Pann said.
Pann was encouraged by family and professors to pursue accounting but at age 18, she went to Van Gogh show and never looked back.
“The story behind the house is really about the love story behind Gonzalo and myself,” Pann said. “We salsa in the house and if it weren’t toxic, I’d paint on him.”
Pann hopes the Mosaic Tile House eventually will be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it worthy of preservation. Whatever happens, Duran is convinced the house will stay standing.
“To tear this down is a big job. So I mean it’ll be here forever,” he said.
“Visitors just walk around them as they work,” Anzuoni said of Pann and Duran. “It’s like they’re part of the art.” — Reuters