Fairytale castles and cathedrals. Baroque architecture and Art Nouveau details. Rose, gold, and purple buildings lining every street.
There’s no denying Prague is one of Europe’s gems. Thanks to being one of the few cities that was spared destruction during World War II, the Czech Republic capital has architecture dating from Medieval times. Gothic spires and Bohemian statues are just some of the many architectural details that make Prague a draw for tourists.
It’s fair to note that the city is also well-maintained. Compared to other major European cities, there isn’t a ton of graffiti (aside from the popular tourist spot, The Lennon Wall). Here, if you’re going to add some art to a building, it better live up to the rest of city’s beauty and enriching color palette. Which is why Free Mozaik, Prague’s mosaic street artists, are so popular here.
The three artists that make up Free Mozaik—Jan Pancíř, Tereza Podová, and Jan Lukeš—collaborate to add mosaic street art installations all over the city.
“We started doing this three years ago. We contacted someone from the city to get permission to do our first one in a park,” said Podová.
That first installation was “Strom Života,” a massive mosaic, curly branched tree. They’ve continued to work with the city to add more installations, as well as take private commissions…and the occasional, smaller, illegal installation.
“A big wall needs a lot of free time, which is what street artists don’t have,” said Pancíř.
When it comes to modern mosaic (and illegal) street art, all eyes are on France’s Invader. The mosaic graffiti artist’s work is all over Europe and the world in 33 countries. Invader gets his name because his pieces are inspired by video game characters, primarily ones from the late 1970s/early 1980s, like Space Invader.
He started his mosaic graffiti “invasions”—installing 20-40 pieces throughout the city—in 1998 in his hometown and has gone on to install mosaics in 31 other French towns, 60 towns globally.
Invader is often credited for making mosaic street art popular again. He was featured as the only mosaic street artist in Banksy’s 2010 street art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Free Mozaik started because the longtime friends took a trip to Barcelona and were inspired by the many mosaics they saw and fell in love with the artform. Barcelona is known for its architecture and street mosaics by Antoni Gaudí.
In addition to buildings throughout the city, Park Güell contains a critical mass of the artist’s works, like the famous Dragon Fountain at the entrance that greets visitors. The Barcelona street mosaic tradition continues with other artists’ works popping up all over the city, like “The Kiss of Freedom” mural in Plaça d’Isidre Nonell by Joan Fontcuberta.
Free Mozaik was so blown away and inspired by Barcelona that they knew they had to bring mosaic street art to Prague. Free Mozaik are self-taught and they all have day jobs. Pancíř and Podová both work as office managers and Lukeš is a heating engineer.
Their story is familiar with many other mosaic street artists inspired by works in Europe and bringing the style back to their own countries. Jorge Campos, or better known as “Pixel,” is a famous Chilean mosaic street artist who admits to getting into mosaics when he discovered Invader’s work in Paris.
On the floor of Free Mozaik’s Prague 10 studio is a work-in-progress private installation piece. It’s the face of a woman with shades of red and brown hair blowing behind her, all made out of small broken tiles.
Podová sits on the floor and is showing me how she carefully cuts the tiles into the shape she wants. Lukeš shows me some of their sketches from their past pieces. Free Mozaik sketches their ideas first and then selects the right tiles for color and texture; then, the real work begins.
Each tile must be specifically and carefully cut to fit into the desired design, whether they are making the curve on a pedal of the flower or the scale on a snake. Each piece is glued down on metal mesh before transferring and grouting to the desired surface. The result looks like a happy accident and that a bunch of broken pieces of tile just happened to fit together in a whimsical work of art.
“Inspiration comes from everywhere,” says Pancíř. He gestures to the woman on the floor, “This was inspired by Art Nouveau because the target wall surrounds an Art Nouveau house.”
Prague is known for its Art Nouveau thanks to its birth by Czech artist Alfons Mucha. Free Mozaik carefully considers each idea to fit in with the Prague landscape.
“‘The Heads’ were inspired by the many people who walk around the neighborhood.”
Pancíř is referring to “Hlavy,” their largest, most ambitious installation piece. Various cartoon-like faces overlap and fill up a wall lining an entire block. Installed in 2014, it was their third piece and amped up their notoriety in Prague.
Free Mozaik is truly collaborative. No one is responsible for a single step and they work together on each phase: discussing what to do, drawing out their designs, hand picking each of their locally sourced tile, cutting and assembling the tiles, and installing the work.
“We love tiles in different combinations—colors, surface, texture, matt or glossy. Once pasted together it can be very impressive. And people like it,” remarks Pancíř. “We want there to be more and more mosaic in the world, not just in Prague.”