Joanna Kessel: Aurum/Gold Le Roi Fou, Edinburgh

Visual Art: Giles Sutherland

Joanna Kessel: Aurum / Gold
Le Roi Fou
Forth Street


Le Roi Fou is no ordinary restaurant. The proprietor, Isolde Nash, is a multi-talented individual with a background in art and contemporary dance – the restaurant is one of many projects to which she has brought her considerable talents and experience. The décor here is tasteful, but minimal, with great attention given to wall colours, textures, seating and lighting. She talks of the ‘golden embrace’ on entering the space on a cold, foggy winter’s day.

Nash has instigated a number of partnerships with artists in the venue and the current collaboration involves Jo Kessel, an accomplished RCA-trained artist, based in Edinburgh, whose work has covered different media, including paper-works. Since 2010, when she received a Creative Development award from SAC, she has worked for some of the time in Venice and Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna, developing her experience in mosaic.

 Le Roi Fou seems an idea venue for Kessel’s complex, abstracted mosaic collage constructions. The entrance from the street is made of polished terrazzo (itself a modern interpretation of mosaic techniques) and so paves the way, literally, for what is to be found over the threshold.

Both Ravenna and Venice are well-renowned for their remarkable architectural legacy with Ravenna (a UNESCO world heritage city) boasting a number of historic buildings where the use of mosaic, in particular, is highly significant. Mosaic is a broad term but, at its most basic, it involves embedding coloured objects (usually cubic fragments of glass, or tesserae) into an amalgam, in order to create patterned or representational effects.  Because of the position of both cities on the western Adriatic, they became important points on the trade routes from the Byzantine empire, where the technique was widely practiced from the 5th to the 15th  centuries. Its use was widespread in early Christian basilicas, and was often defined by the integration of gold leaf in the tesserae.

Kessels’s preferred form of construction is a Jesmonite mould into which are embedded tesserae fragments. They hint at details and remembrances gleaned from walking the back streets, as well as some of the grander architecture, of these Italian cities. They are a form of anamnesis, and some are named in homage to the great recorder of walking and observing, Italo Calvino.

Kessel cites artists such as Antoni Gaudí and Eduardo Paolozzi as major influences – she was studying in London at the time Paolozzi’s Tottenham Court tube station mosaics were being installed. But these works, which scintillate, (not garishly, but quietly and seductively) in the quiet light of the northern winter, bring great comfort and nourishment to the soul.