To celebrate Mexico’s complex and illustrious design heritage, Milagros has partnered with artist Frea Buckler to offer an edition of six new encaustic tile patterns. These are inspired by the work of Modernist Mexican architects Luis Barragán and Ricardo Legoretta – two brilliant visionaries whose use of bright colour, clean lines, carefully formulated compositions, and homage to inflections of pre-Columbian design helped birth a modern and optimistic Mexican aesthetic.
Tiles are in fact particularly emblematic of Mexico’s complex design heritage, and their story is one that wends its way around the globe following both trade routes and colonialism. The blue and white pottery of imperial China can be traced into the iconic ‘azulejos’ of Portugal, and similarly, encaustic tiles originated in the 1500s in Spain, at that time still highly influenced by a Moorish aesthetic. These tiles were used as ballast on galleons destined for Mexico – effectively placeholder weight, in anticipation of the ships being loaded up with treasures from the New World destined back for Spain. However, encaustic tiles eventually started being made more cheaply in Mexico, and today Milagros sources theirs from a small family-run workshop in Patzcauro.
Encaustic tiles are a particularly sustainable building choice: being made of concrete, they’re extremely hard-wearing. Their pigmentation gives an extraordinary depth of colour, especially after they start to develop a patina from use and age. Spanish monasteries have encaustic floors which are still looking gorgeous after half a millennium!
These tiles measure 20 x 20cm, and are made using molds similar to cookie cutters, in a hydraulic press. Their pigmented surfaces are 5mm deep, and composed of marble dust and cement. The body of the tile is then made of a concrete derived from volcanic stone aggregate. Given the small scale of the operation, variations in colour do occur. For Milagros, this is part of their joy. The weathered blues, well-mellowed yellows, pinks and oranges of this edition evoke the deep calm of sun-saturated afternoons.
Frea Buckler is a Bristol-based artist working in installation, screenprint, and sculpture. Her practice centres on colour, and the interplay between urban and domestic forms. She studied at Central St Martins and the University of West England, Bristol. Her work has featured at the Royal Academy and Davidson Gallery in New York, among others.
‘The repeating nature and modularity of tile patterns was really interesting to me’, Buckler says of the project. ‘There wasn’t just the pattern of the individual tiles to consider, but the overall impression they would make in a grid, and the almost endless possibilities of rotating them against one another. In my own work, I often avoid pattern, choosing instead to opt for asymmetry.’ She adds that it was a pleasure to operate within the constraints set by the tile-makers themselves: she had to develop her designs within a limited colour palette. Drawing on her practice of screen-printing (and, indeed, some of her own screen prints), the tiles’ manufacturing process also felt very intuitive to Buckler, which permitted a high degree of improvisation. Having worked on them so intently, she would love to bring them into a gallery context – ‘they’d make a great installation!’
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