The South Asian Times

20 July 2018 19:59 PM

Sign painter of Bronx becomes a pioneer mosaic artist

By Parveen Chopra

After migrating to America, the man from Moga in Punjab became a signmaker to make a living. But the artist in him could not be suppressed for long. Some five years ago, he started working in a rare genre called mosaic art. Already he is recognized as a pioneer because his creations are more a painting than an artful assemblage of glass pieces.

Harjeet Singh Sandhu took this correspondent recently to his workshop in the basement of his house in Queens where he is currently working to give finishing touches to his portrait of Mother Teresa. “It may look finished, but I have yet to create the wrinkles to make her come alive,” said Sandhu.

Sandhu’s  mosaic art musters both the imagination of an artist and the brawn of an artisan. “Often, my fingers start bleeding from cutting and handling glass pieces,” he says. His artworks’ height ranges from 2-4 feet. It takes him almost a year to finish one mosaic.

Consequently, he has completed only a few so far including a portrait of Baba Farid, the Golden Temple, Mayor Bloomberg and now Mother Teresa. He took his finished works at considerable personal expense for solo shows in Punjab early this year. The show at Punjab Kala Bhawan in Chandigarh was opened by Nek Chand, who gave the city its chief tourist attraction, the Rock Garden. Nek Chand also honored him on behalf of the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi.

Baba Farid was Sandhu’s first mosaic. This 12th century Sufi saint-poet lived in the  part of Punjab from which Sandhu also hails. Faridkot is named after the saint and to a museum there Sandhu has gifted the mosaic.   

Three-term Mayor Bloomberg he chose as a subject because, “He is my mayor,” Sandhu told the New York Daily News. “Some things he does, sometimes people don’t like it. But I think what he does for the city is very good.” The 2-foot tall portrait of Bloomberg is in a dapper blue suit, complete with a small American flag pin on his lapel.

In the Golden Temple mosaic, Sandhu’s artistry and paintstaking work has created the movement of water around the reflection of the famous landmark.

A sketch of President Obama is also lying in his workshop, obviously ready to get his mosaic treatment. “I’d finish it before Obama’s second term gets over and would love to present it personally to him and see it hang in the White House,” says Sandhu who is also planning portraits of Sikh gurus.

Mother Teresa and Obama mosaics are certain to bring him fame and enough traction for  a successful show which he is planning in New York.

Getting recognized in America as an artist is quite a journey for Sandhu who was a physical education teacher in Moga. Pursuing a master’s in fine arts, he went on to become a successful sculptor and painter. He moved to the US in 1985 after the anti-Sikh riots, opened a sign painting shop. But mosaic beckoned.  "I feel mirrors reflect the intrinsic beauty of anything," Sandhu says.

Mosaic Art Supply of Georgia says this about Sandhu on their website, “What makes Sandhu's mosaic portraits of Mayor Bloomberg and Baba Farid  amazing is that they are made from ordinary 3/8-inch vitreous glass mosaic tile, which is only available in a limited number of colors. Sandhu was able to use this limited color palette to render two completely different skin tones in a realistic way -- something of a tour de force.”

Update: 15 Nov, 2013