Joanna Virgo

Joanna uses sophisticated materials sourced from the other side of the world to create her artworks.

‘Smalti’ is her favourite. A rectangular, Italian glass tile celebrated for its variance of colour, opacity and brilliance, it has a rich, almost fudge-like appearance, yet is as hard as stone. She says, “’Smalti’ reflects light beautifully”. “The tiles are not uniform in size or shape so you can use all sides, even creating three dimensional effects if that is what you want.”

She uses an exquisite glass bead called ‘millefiori’ or ‘a thousand flowers’ in her jewellery, as well as miniature ‘smalti’, other micro glass tiles and tiny handmade Moroccan tiles. Semi-precious gems, amber and turquoise can also be found in her collection.

Joanna is disciplined in her extensive research of materials and methods, as you would expect of someone who holds a Masters degree in Law and Administration from Warsaw University, and who worked for the Commonwealth public service before retiring to Malua Bay with husband David.

But there is undercurrent of passion and spirit of adventure in the life and art of this quiet achiever.  A refugee from behind the ‘Iron Curtain’, Joanna arrived in Australia in 1985 with her then husband. She was three months pregnant and spoke no English.  Escaping on a tourist visa, she travelled by bus through Czechoslovakia and Hungary to Austria. She says “It was so frightening yet exhilarating at the same time! At a prearranged spot, my fiancée waited for me in Vienna with the largest and most beautiful bunch of flowers, and on sighting him I told the bus driver to stop and unload my luggage—I would not be going any further.”

Joanna’s interest in mosaic (some in her family would say addiction) led her to the North African nation of Tunisia, formerly a Roman colony called Carthage. Tunisia’s Bardo museum has the world’s largest collection of ancient Roman mosaics. She says, “Visiting their National Museum and taking so many photographs of their collection was the happiest hour of my life.”

It cemented Joanna’s determination to create her own mosaics—initially Roman inspired panels. Her signature ‘Elephant’ panel is based on a Roman wall mosaic. She has since taken to experimenting with more semi-abstract works and has expanded into making mirrors framed in mosaic using locally collected shells and natural stones as well as tiles. Occasionally she will add copper beads or embossed foil into her creations. Researching current trends in contemporary mosaic, Joanna has been inspired to purchase a kiln in which to fuse glass designs for incorporation into future mosaics.

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