Mosaic by Hsiao Chin, orange magnetic field of concentric contours
Selling Exhibitions

Tracing the Spiritual Energy of Hsiao Chin’s Mosaics Back to an Early European Tradition

By Tessa Moldan
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Hsiao Chin’s work with glass mosaics began when he met Italian artist Lino Reduzzi in 2005. Deeply moved by each other's works, the two artists formed a friendship of mutual respect and inspiration, working together on mosaics for the next 15 years.

In these works, Hsiao Chin’s fusion of Eastern and Western aesthetics to create his own unique style, is visible. Cosmic colors and forms contain a spiritual power reminiscent of early European religious art, which saw walls and vaulting of Christian churches in cities such as Rome, Constantinople, and Ravenna shimmering with mosaics. Ravenna, located on Italy’s coast on the Adriatic Sea, was once the capital of Rome’s Western Empire and a point of trade with Byzantium, coming under Byzantine rule in 540. The city is home to many sites of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture, including the Church of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, both of which are covered in deceptively plain bricks re-used from the Roman Empire, concealing interiors glittering with mosaics.

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia ceiling mosaics
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia ceiling mosaics in Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Photo credit: Alamy Stock Photo

These mosaics consist of tesserae – small cubes of glass that in some cases are sandwiched with gold – placed at an angle, allowing light to catch and reflect from their surface. The pictorial and the architectural fuse in spiritual drama, of stunning detail in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, where floral motifs and stars can be observed against a blue background, with candlelight once the source of flickering luminescence in the otherwise dim, almost windowless architecture.

These are but minor examples within the long history of mosaics, the material being used for opulent Roman flooring and further, with the earliest known example being the seashell, ivory, and stone rendering of a Mesopotamian temple floor in Abra dated to the third millennium BC, but they are mosaics that resonate spectacularly with the works of Hsiao Chin. In Hsiao Chin’s use of the material, tesserae are placed at varying heights, much to the same glittering effect.

Simple yet powerful combinations of color reign in Hsiao’s paintings, elevated to further spiritual effect in his mosaics. This is visible in the series To the Eternal Garden, developed in the early 1990s. In these works, dense pools of color push across the picture plane, interrupted by lines that suggest a rippling effect, as if the color is in motion. In 2015, the Hsiao worked with mosaic expert Lino Reduzzi, a graduate of the Accademia Carrara di Belle Arti and the Department of Architecture at Politecnico di Milano, to render preparatory sketches for the series into a collection of mosaics. The materiality of the Venetian smalto tesserae, or colored glass, renders the color palpable, with the cosmic energy of each composition rendered to great effect.

At Sotheby's Hsiao Chin – Infinite Universe selling exhibition, a complete series of the artist’s mosaic works include huge, labor-intensive pieces such as Enormous Cosmic Whirlpool, in which varying shades of poignant color twist into an effervescent yellow center. In these mosaics, the artist breaks free from the canvas, evidence of his continued pursuit of new aesthetic realms.

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