Artist Akhriev’s Erlanger Chapel Mosaic Selected for International Exhibition
Even the entry courtyard into Daud Akhriev’s Southside Chattanooga studio is a kind of mosaic. As we walk through, Akhriev describes the wall as a natural mosaic, with a more traditional masonry purpose and feel. The salvaged stones reinforce the sense of sanctuary one experiences upon entering the quiet, light-drenched space. We talk more about the recent recognition his work is receiving in the wider art world.
Akhriev recently collaborated with his son, fellow artist Timur Akhriev, and local architect Craig Kronenburg, to redesign Erlanger Hospital’s interfaith chapel. Unveiled last September, 2015, the space has been celebrated locally as a stunning addition to the hospital and site of artistic inspiration worthy of its own pilgrimage. Daud’s wife, artist Melissa Hefferlin agrees.
“The chapel project coincided with the recent death of my father, and when I walked into the room, it took my breath away. It is alive. People should not only visit when they need to be at the hospital,” she adds. “It’s worth a trip of it’s own.”
In February, the Erlanger Chapel Mosaic was selected as a finalist for the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) “Mosaic in Situ” gallery show. Ten works have been selected for the show, which is one segment of SAMA’s three-part 2016 Mosaic Arts International Exhibition held in San Diego, California through May 27. Sherri Warner Hunter juried the finalists for the exhibition, and is passionate about the in situ, architecturally focused mosaic category. She stresses that with in situ mosaic, “the investment of materials and time is multiplied from typical studio work and both commissioned and community-based finalists need to effectively serve the function they were deigned to accomplish.”
Akhriev feels honored to be a finalist, and was excited to travel to San Diego in April for the Evening With the Pros event, where the artists discussed their work. He is also quick to credit Craig Kronenberg (HK Architects) with designing a fluid plan, providing the curved walls and trapezoidal windows that serve as the work’s defining skeleton, which helped ensure a functional space, serving the daily needs of a busy metropolitan hospital. “Without Craig’s vision, the mosaic would not really move, and that was the goal—to lift people and move the spirit.”
The artists were somewhat limited in their design by the hospital’s guidelines regarding figures. Because Erlanger wanted the chapel to invite reflection and reverence among people of all faiths, they steered away from the figures they often include in mosaic work. Many of the sketches and scaled down mosaic studies include depictions of angels, but in the chapel, the father-son team opted for the suggestion of wings and flight instead.
The chapel walls are lined with handmade tiles of red and white porcelain slip, some with a pinkish tinge, others with a blue hue, in the sgraffito (meaning to scratch) technique and painted using glazes and under glazes. The whole mosaic is dotted with flecks of more precious and reflective stone fragments and glass shards, including Italian smalti. Remembering the project’s intricacies, Akhriev suggests that mosaics are inherently challenging because without contrasting textures and colors, the result is bland, but the components must also blend.
Born in 1959 in the former Soviet Union, Akhriev studied at the Repin Institute (Russian Academy of Fine Art), where he earned his masters degree in fine art, mentored by the late Piotr Fomin. He now travels extensively and divides his time between their home in Spain and their studio here in Chattanooga, where he has resided since immigrating in 1991 from his family home near Chechnya.
Locally, he has partnered with Baylor School Art Department faculty members, Betsy Carmichael and Mary Lynn Portera, through an artist in residence program and various projects.
Working on the Erlanger commission in Chattanooga facilitated an easy collaborative process with his son, Timur, and part of the magic of the chapel was born of that spontaneity. Daud describes their work together as meditative rather than tedious.
“That was a great time.”