Those of us who were riveted by Brian Bull’s autobiographical Mosaics: the secrets, tools and techniques (Triton Books 1976) will welcome this book likewise. Brian Bull and Kenneth Budd were complete masters of their art, which was first and foremost the art of making large public mosaics. And here we have Kenneth’s son Oliver, himself a master mosaicist, giving a detailed, informative and entertaining account of how his father and he created some of the finest mural mosaics in Great Britain – indeed, in the world.
Beginnings are always interesting: Kenneth Budd (1926-1995), descended from a family of blacksmiths and farriers, was early attracted to large scale mural painting, though his first job was as a graphic designer. Then in 1961 he began assisting with projects in cast concrete bas-relief. But he wanted to work with colour also, and of course we know that painted outdoor murals don’t do well in England. Enter mosaic… Kenneth’s first commission was for a 60ft x 15ft (!!!) abstract mosaic for a grammar school in Kettering, Northamptonshire. He was off…
Work flowed in, starting with two biggies for Birmingham. Kenneth, highly practical, like all true pros, soon decided that given the tetchy English climate it would be best to make the bulk of the outdoors mosaics indoors. So he invented a technique of prefabricating the mosaic in his studio on aluminium mesh panels, with Bal Flex as the adhesive. In fact several Budd designs feature cast concrete bas relief that incorporates areas of mosaic.
Young Oliver helped his Dad in the school holidays, naturally, but started working full-time for him when he was 22; and in 1979 Oliver was first credited officially. That was for the mighty Rock Strata Wall in Telford New Town, Shropshire - “Artist Kenneth Budd, assisted by Oliver Budd”. They worked together as partners for years, and when Kenneth died in 1995 Oliver continued building the firm up into one of the most successful in the kingdom.
It’s tempting to describe project after project, but as the “Mosaicography” at the back of the book lists 73 of them perhaps it’s best to take my word that this superb book, with its wealth of colour photos, project histories, personal anecdotes and technical insights is a must-have for anyone interested in the art and craft of large-scale modern mosaic.
I’m allowed to have a favourite Budd work, and it’s the vast Birmingham Horsefair mural, in smalti. At one stage of my life I walked passed it every day for weeks and never ceased to marvel, especially at the astonishingly lifelike portrait of Alderman Thomas. How can a few chunks of glass recreate the face of a human being? Well, that’s the art of mosaic at its greatest…