Carrie Reichardt’s mosaic house, nestled on a suburban road in Chiswick, is quite a sight! Colourful, detailed and impactful. It is so remarkably different to what might be seen around the rest of the area. It is impossible not to stop and stare or to resist the urge to look more closely.
As unique pieces of art goes, you are unlikely to find a more remarkable piece of public art in the city. The place is covered in head to toe, front and back with bright mosaic. Each section tells a story and it’s different phases have featured different players, influences and artists. along the 20 years journey each of whom have helped contribute in some way.
History of the Mosaic House
Starting with the back and lower front sections of the house. Initially created by Carrie and her then partner Thayen Rich. He had come up with the original design and would have been influenced by his background in storyboard and comic art. Also supporting the creation of the mosaic from its inception were the artists ATM and Karen Francesca. It was a labour of love. There would be bursts of activity interspersed with long lulls. That was until 2017 when a massive push to complete featured some of the world’s best mosaic artists. They would come together in order to try and complete the project.
It’s also not only the house. It’s perfectly possible that you might also come across two entirely mosaiced vehicles parked outside. Both created as separate art projects in their own right. You might come across the Tiki Love Truck. Bright orange and originally exhibited at the V&A as part of their disobedient objects exhibition in 2014. It commemorates John Joe ‘Ash’ Amador who was sentenced to death in Texas. It is part of Carrie’s long running art campaign against the death penalty.
Secret’s of Carrie Reichardt’s House
You might also see an entirely mosaiced black taxi cab. Another tribute, this time to Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore. Another prisoner in the American penal system. He spent over 36 years in solitary confinement. We covered the mosaicing of the taxi in 2015 and you can read more about that particularly epic undertaking here.
But this post is really about unlocking some of the houses secrets. There are loads of little in jokes, symbolism and influences from over the years. These make up the detail in the house. For the rest of the post we’ll be revealing some of those secrets. So here we go, 30 hidden secrets of the Carrie Reichardt’s mosaic house.
1. The memorial to Luis Ramirez and his original prison ID card
As a campaigning artist Carrie Reichardt has long championed the cause of death row inmates in America. Particularly those who have been locked up in dubious circumstances and without real access to decent legal counsel. Luis Ramirez was the first death row prisoner that Carrie got to know and they become friends. Somehow Luis managed to post his prisoner ID card to Carrie. It is contained in resin on the back wall of the house. Executed in 2005, a mosaic tribute to him can also be seen at the back.
2. The Angola 3 are commemorated on the building
The Angola 3 were named after the prison in Louisiana where they were held. They were Black Panthers in the sixties. Although they were later freed, they had been held for over 40 years. Many of those years were in solitary confinement. Victims of miscarriages of justice, the three are immortalised on the back of the house. Their portraits displayed over the top left bedroom window. The three are also referenced in an old piece of work on the garage doors from street artist Stik. One of the three Herman Wallace died only two days after being released. The others, Albert Woodfox and Robert King, are still alive. They visited the house for the first time last year. A further tribute to Herman Wallace can be seen on the front of the building.
3. Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore is immortalised in a flying eyeball
Another former black panther who Carrie has used her art to campaign for is Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore. Locked up in dubious circumstances he had been held in solitary confinement for 37 years. She used her recent mosaicing of a black taxi cab to draw attention to his plight. That cab is an incredible piece of art. Kenny’s portrait is also immortalised in a flying eyeball on the back of the house. He is still in prison and Carrie still keeps in regular contact with him.
4. There are lots of other Flying Eyeballs
Around the outside of the house there are lots of flying eyeballs something Carrie has become quite well known for. They are a nod to what Carrie describes as low brow 50’s American art. A play on the all seeing eye flying around seeing everything. In addition to the one containing Kenny ‘Zulu’ Whitmore’s portrait there are many others. They were sent by different mosaic artists following an appeal which Carrie made when she decided to have her epic final push to complete the front of the house in 2017.
5. The house has two blue plaques
There are two blue plaques on the front of the house both from the English Hedonists aka Carrie herself. The first looks just like a normal blue plaque. One that you might see anywhere else. It says ‘NA Faith, Hope & Courage – Maybe some of us partied a little too hard‘. The second says ‘The Treatment Rooms, 2002 – Now’ Lot’s of people lived here and partied hard‘. There is definitely a theme of hard partying. The reference to ‘The Treatment Rooms’ being the name of the community artist collective that Carrie is a part of.
6. There is a giant scarab beetle in the middle of the building
The availability of world renowned Chilean artist Isidora Paz Lopez was the catalyst to the big push to finish the house. It was following her offer to come and do something on the building that Carrie put out the call for other artists to join her on the epic push to the finish. Isidora’s contribution was a spectacular giant scarab beetle surrounding the middle window on the first floor. The scarab represents re-birth and re-generation and is about starting afresh. There’s also a little quote from her at the bottom which says “think pussytive”
It was at the first International Urban Mosaic Intervention in Chile in 2014 when a number of the artists who helped with the final push on the house first met. Isidora being the catalyst for getting them all together to work on a large international mosaic project in the area of Puente Alto. There they adorned the front facade of the towns Mayoral chambers. It was based on the theme of a ‘magic garden’. A number of the artists formed lifelong connections.
7. There are two cheshire cats from Alice in Wonderland on the front of the house
On either side of the front of the house are two Cheshire Cats from Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. The one on the left is the easiest to see. Created by Tamara Froud, a mosaic artist from Catford. She really wanted her contribution to the house to be cat based. It was meant to balance out an earlier hidden cat on the right hand side. Completed by Carrie some years before, hat cat is much harder to see. Just as in Alice in Wonderland the cat can become invisible. So on the mosaic house you can only see the cats eyes and grinning mouth.
8. There is a Hokusai Wave swallowing London
On the back of the house is a mosaic recreation of the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai. Except in this version the wave is swallowing London. Look carefully and you’ll see the Gherkin, St Pauls Cathedral and Canary Wharf. All are floating around in the base of the wave. “I have always been paranoid that one day my house will be underwater due to rising sea levels. This was a representation of this” explained Carrie. “London becoming submerged due to climate disaster.”
9. There are two lovers kissing on the side of the building
Walking towards the house from the the side. In a certain light the first thing you might think two lovers are having a bit of a snog by the side of the building. Of course the snoggers are mosaic and this is just meant to be a visual gag. Something to catch people unawares when they first come upon the house. An idea and design from Carrie’s former partner Thayen Rich. Sadly the effect is a little bit disrupted by the presence of the neighbours fence.
10. There is a Turner Prize Reject
Hidden away on the back bottom right hand corner of the house are three doll heads with a plaque saying ‘Turner Prize Reject’. This is a common visual gag in a lot of Carrie’s work. You can also see Turner Prize Rejects on her mosaic vehicles. Both also contain a reference. “I was given a button badge that said Turner Prize Reject. I just thought it was great – so I made it into a ceramic piece and put the babies heads to it” said Carrie explaining where the idea came from. “You would be surprised at how many people have asked me if it’s true….I was going to change it to Too Old for the Turner Prize, but then they went and got rid of the age limit.”
11. There are a pair of Mandrakes before Harry Potter made them famous
On the front of the house underneath the right hand side window are two mandrakes. In myth the mandrake is a plant which is supposed to look like a person. It is supposed to emit a lethal scream when you try to pull them out of the ground. Harry Potter of course made them famous but Carrie’s versions are a little more cheeky. Featuring a male and female mandrake the female is standing demurely whilst the male plays with himself behind a plant. Naughty mandrake!
12. Wildstyle graffiti in mosaic runs behind a giant Octopus
Hidden away in the background of the mural at the back is a homage to graffiti wildstyle lettering. One of the many influences Carrie drew upon she wanted to include graffiti in the final piece. You can see it now around the back of the head of the Octopus which covers the back wall. She and her first partner, a writer called Zaki Dee, would watch the seminal film ‘Wild Style’ over and over again. “The love of that early New York graffiti has always stayed with me” she said.
Her partner at the time, Thayen Rich, helped to draw up and design the mosaic graffiti. It was meant to replace the graffiti which had been on the wall prior to it being mosaiced. “The council at the time kept asking for permission to remove the stencilled graffiti that was on the back on the wall” explained Carrie. “Little did they know it was our own art. In fact the council did paint my garage black without permission to remove stencils that we are ourselves had put up there. So I decided to remove the painted graffiti and replace it with ceramic graffiti that they can’t paint over.”
13. There’s an upside down all seeing eye and a one eyed Mickey Mouse above the front door
On the front of the house above a kon tiki totem pole is an upside down all seeing eye which is probably more familiar to people as the image on the back of the American one dollar bill. Reversing this particular image given that it also has connections to masonry is about giving the power back to the people. There’s also a one eyed Mickey Mouse above the doorway.
14. Inspirational quotes are built into the house
There are a number of points on the house where quotes have been taken from the likes of Martin Luther King, Bill Hicks, Thomas Paine and the Bible. There are also a few from Carrie herself. A selection of them are:
My country is the world: My religion to do good – Thomas Paine
Where there is no vision the people perish – The Bible
The ultimate tragedy is not the brutality of the bad people but the silence of the good people
Here’s what we do. You know all that money we spend on nuclear weapons and defence every year? Instead if we spent that money feeding and clothing the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded… not one… we could as one race explore space, together both inner and outer, for ever, in peace. – Bill Hicks
I am an artist your rules do not apply – Carrie Reichardt
15. There is a cycle of the moon on the back wall
Covering the full length of the top of the wall at the back of the building are a number of pyramid shapes sculptures with mirrored pieces of glass contained within them. Run along the boxes from left to right and they actually depict the phases of the moon as it runs through it’s lunar cycle. The quote from Bill Hicks mentioned previously also runs along the length of the wall just below the lunar cycle sculpture. As an aside the pyramid shaped boxes were all cast out of ferrero rocher boxes.
16. There is a plaque to the Secret Society of Super Villain Artists
A plaque from Hex Ceramic commemorating SSOSVA otherwise known as the secret society of super villain artists is on the front of the building. A collective who basically support each other, support charity events and basically try to create a network of like minded artists so that they can be stronger as an independent art community. They are well worth getting to know even if that is only for the cool logo and the funky t-shirts. The plaque on the side of Carrie’s house incorporates both the SSOSVA logo and the ‘Mad in England’ logo which Carrie has become known for.
17. Two cartoon fish from the Simpsons are hidden in the mosaic
Hidden away on the front and back are two little three-eyed orange fish from the Simpsons. Initially added onto the back wall because Carrie’s children just really liked the Simpsons. The fish also blended well with the back walls overall slightly oceanic theme. On the front wall of the house, there is another Simpsons fish hidden away in amongst one of the double helix mosaics that run like pillars up along the front of the house.
18. A double helix runs up the front of the building
Two of the pillars running up the top of the building on the front right are mosaic representations of the double helix which is the spiral arrangement of the two microbiological complementary strands that make up DNA. These particular pieces are from long time collaborator Karen Francesca and the purpose of placing the double helix in such prominent place on the front of the building is that this represents life. In amongst the strands of the helix can also be seen lots of little hidden symbols such as vaginas, eyes, grapes and the celtic Sheela Na Gig figures.
19. There is a Celtic Vine which runs up the building
The middle pillar running up to the top of the buildings front is a celtic inspired meandering vine designed and mosaiced by Eoghan Ebrill. A direct copy from a Celtic scabbard which dates from around 2500 ago. The piece is also complementary to the double helix mosaics. “A vagina is the Latin word for a scabbard” said Carrie. “It’s made to look like a vine growing up the house and is related to the two other pieces that are made by Karen Francesca. Her’s obviously have real vagina’s hidden it her piece. The vine is symbolic in shape of the double helix.”
20. A number of Sheela Na Gigs are hidden throughout
Hidden within the double helix pillars are a number of Sheela Na Gigs which are said to keep away evil spirits. Found all over Europe they show a female figure with an exaggerated vulva. With most dating from the Norman period of the 11th and 12th centuries the origin of the Sheela Na Gig is uncertain with many believing that they have a much earlier Celtic origin. The figures incorporated into the front of the house were by Karen Francesca and the principle artist behind the double helix mosaics.
21. There are a lot spacebugs running around the building
Look carefully and along the top and to the side of the house you can see a number of mosaic bugs scampering down. The bugs are from French mosaic artist Philippe Vignal and he calls them his spacebugs. Philippe installs the spacebugs in cities around Europe and you can see them dotted around the East End of London as well as on Carrie’s house in Chiswick. He had started making the bugs back in Chile when a number of the artists collaborated on an international project together over there in 2014.
22. There are lots of little butterfly eyes
Barcelona based Chilean artist Nevenka Pavic is known for her butterfly eyes. You can see these dotted around the front of the mosaic house. When they were being installed, during the final push to finish in 2017, we even managed to cut one out and add it to the house. Our own minor contribution to the artwork and one which gave us a good appreciation of just how tough cutting some of these tiles can be. The eyes have been a symbol of Nevenka’s work for a long time. Representing a part of herself she only started introducing them into her work during the Chilean trip where a lot of the contributing artists met for the first time.
23. There is a fairy with 3D wings
Looking up on the top left of the house there is a fairy designed and installed by Welsh artist Stephanie Roberts. Upon further inspection you can see that the wings of the fairy are slightly protruding from the surface giving them a 3D look. Emerging from clouds, made by Dutch artist Se Van Veert, the fairy is looking up towards a flying spacebug. All around her are flying eyeballs which people have sent in from around the world.
“My mosaic for Carrie’s house was connected to a long running theme of creating this stylised woman” explained Stephanie. “Very feminine and swollen bellied. She celebrates the female form and the delicate nature of life, while implying birth of creation is ever present.”
Stephanie describes the fairy as being in conversation with the house. Her story unfolding as the mosaic took shape, “the energy of the house was beginning to emerge” she told me. “I spoke to Philippe (Vignal) about working in collaboration with this conversational concept and if he would like to create a flying bug that she could aspire to be, he agreed and began to make it. She had her backpack on ready, her body wrapped in strips, her wings in place emerging from Se Van Veert’s clouds. Surrounded by Nevanka Pavic’s flying eyes, she was ready to take flight.”
24. There are clouds of consciousness
Look closely at the layer just above the first floor window and you’ll be able to see clouds of consciousness from Sian Wonnish a local and regular collaborator with Carrie. Within the clouds are lots of references and commentary, giving them their name, the clouds of consciousness. “We were really trying to recycle old tiles into the house” said Carrie “and the clouds are made up of stock I had. They are ones that relate to previous work or themes I have worked around. There are references to the Suffragettes, Black Panthers and Mexican revolutionaries. People who fought for human rights and who need to be remembered.”
25. There is a giant woman with eight arms on the back of the house
The giant woman on the back of the building is based on Marici a buddhist celestial associated with the light and the sun. She is sat on a lotus flower which is symbol often attached to Marici and is a way in which she is often depicted in iconography. This version however is a more modern up to date version. Spinning records and saying “the revolution is now” she sits crossed legged whilst above her a banner says ‘All Power to the People!!!’ Her form has taken the shape of a black revolutionary woman. Of her eight arms, one is raised into a fist, a nod to the civil rights movement. On her chest is a red heart and on her belly a black panther, another reference to the civil rights struggle.
26. There are magic mushrooms growing out of a giant lotus flower
The woman at the back of the house is sitting on a giant pink lotus flower out of which are spindly little mushrooms reaching into the sky. On the lotus flower are the words “make love not war” and the mushrooms are of course magic mushrooms. “I believe that mushrooms are an extremely important spiritually awakening medicine” explained Carrie. “I would say a large amount of the house was designed under the influence of such drugs. The lotus flower is associated with Buddhism and symbolic of rebirth.”
27. Two Mayan Gods are holding up the front doorway
On either side of the main entrance are two Mayan Gods seemingly holding up the doorway to the mosaic house. Traditionally having gods at the either side of an entrance symbolises protection and so that’s what they are doing here, protecting the entrance to the home. In a lot of Carrie’s work she has drawn influences from Mayan and Aztec art.
28. There is a tree of life in the porch
Long time collaborator and friend ATM is responsible for the tree of life on the left hand side of the porch. We’ve spoken to him a number of times about his environmental street art. Before he was also known as a highly accomplished mosaic artist. The ‘tree of life’ was one of the first pieces added to the house in 2002.
29. The doorway is surrounded by Adinkra symbols and Indian tapestries.
One of the most important areas to do on the mosaic house was the doorway and the surround of the door contains decorative mosaic inspired from Indian tapestry. The four elements are also represented in Latin as well as a number of Adinkra symbols from West Africa. The Adinkra symbols are used on fabrics and pottery. Sometimes they can be seen in architecture in the region around Ghana and the Ivory Coast. “I just thought they were so beautiful and some of the meanings are wonderful. It’s kind of symbolic, entering the door to a house, like blessing you as you enter” explained Carrie.
30. There are giant tributes to Jill Richards and Herman Wallace
Prominent on the front of the mosaic house are giant memorials to Jill Richards and Herman Wallace, two very important people in Carrie’s life. Jill Richards was Carrie’s mum and also lived in the house, she passed away in 2012. Herman Wallace meanwhile was one of the Angola 3 who Carrie befriended and communicated with for many years whilst he languished inside an American prison. He was eventually released but was in such ill health he died only two days later. Both memorials are adorned with intricate skulls. They are meant to be a lasting celebration of their life and death.
Carrie Reichardt’s mosaic house was visited on 27 January 2018. Most of the pictures were taken on the same day. We had previously visited the house in March 2017 and recorded the final push where a number of artists came from around the UK and the World to help finish things off. The house can be found on Fairlawn Grove which is a short walk from either South Acton or Chiswick Park stations.
For more Inspiring City articles featuring Carrie Reichardt have a look at: