Roy Feinson Lights A Cultural Fuse With 15th Latin GRAMMY Art

South African artist details his process for creating the striking mosaic that forms the artwork for the 15th Latin GRAMMY Awards
October 08, 2014 -- 7:00 am PDT

Artist Roy Feinson has always been fascinated with perspective — how one person views a particular object one way, while another person will see the very same object completely different. So to get fresh perspective on its own Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy tapped Feinson to create the artwork for the milestone 15th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards, taking place Nov. 20 in Las Vegas.

A pioneer in the field of photographic mosaics, Feinson's art for the 15th Latin GRAMMYs marks a return of sorts. In 2007 Feinson was commissioned by The Recording Academy to create a photographic mosaic art for its 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards celebration.

In an exclusive interview with, the modern-day Brunelleschi discussed the mosaic process, his theories on sound and vision, and his unusual relaxation schedule.

Your photographic mosaic for the 15th Annual Latin GRAMMYs is made up of photos from previous Latin GRAMMY Awards presentations. Just how many photo tiles is the piece comprised of?

I'm gonna guess and say about 2,500 photo tiles. The challenge with this type of mosaic is different from any previous processes in that I'm using images that are different sizes, different cutouts, different orientations. If you wanted to make a conventional mosaic of photos, you would use all square photos that all lock together. I wanted to step it up a notch and really use a variety of shapes, so it took a lot more preparation.

Why did you choose a globe concept?

The idea behind the globe was that it presented a way to bring together North America, South America, Portugal, and Spain, all of which make up the [primary areas of] Latin GRAMMY market. So if you're a Latin music aficionado, you would be represented by one of those countries in the mosaic.

Describe how you came up with the concept.

This was actually a collaboration [between] myself and [The Latin Recording Academy]. We looked at a bunch of different ideas. What we wanted to do is really play on the strength of the mosaic itself. What's inherent in any mosaic is this idea of bringing together disparate imagery and finding a way to fuse them into a single image. That mirrors the Latin music scene, which comes together from three different continents to create a common music experience that can be appreciated by the Latin community.

Your mosaic looks painstakingly assembled. To what extent did you use computer software?

What you're seeing in the Latin GRAMMYs mosaic is very much a manual process. There's really no way for software to do it this way. I use my own proprietary software to decode the color, the contrasts and the shapes, but the actual assembly of this is all done by hand, inside the computer. Every picture is placed, rotated and sized by me, although the computer does guide me.

You were commissioned in 2007 to create the impressionist mosaic for the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards. In your opinion, how do the two works differ conceptually?

The one that I did for the 50th Annual GRAMMYs was actual construction, so I built a 6-foot-tall canvas that I actually cut out photographs for. This Latin GRAMMYs piece was done entirely on a computer in a similar process, except with hundreds of layers inside the computer.

You were born and raised in South Africa. Has the country influenced your work?

I'm fascinated by the unusualness of people [who] come together to form a country and South Africa, perhaps more than any other country, embodies that. There's something like 12 official languages in South Africa, and there's a wide range of cultures and races that live there. I think all South Africans are proud of that. The country's character emerges from this combination of different cultures.

You have a degree in photographic science and visual communication. How has your education influenced your art?

I think when you're immersed in a visual environment … it shows you new ways to look at old things. Like if you take a photograph and just change perspectives slightly, you can see something entirely different. It taught me not to take things at face value. There's a lot going on, even in the mundane.

You believe that vision is a construct of our brains, and not always an accurate reflection of the real world. Do people also misinterpret musical sounds?

Absolutely. Let's say that you're in bed at night and the neighbors down the street are playing music loudly. To you, the music they're playing sounds very different from what they're hearing. You're hearing mostly bass and low frequencies in the music, and very few high-frequencies like singing or the lead guitar — it's all blocked out by the environment. That's a perfect example of how one piece of music can sound completely different from one person [to] the next.

What kind of music do you enjoy, and why?

I have no one genre of music that I like, much to the frustration of my wife. I look for the unusual and the unexpected in music, so I appreciate songs where I cannot predict where the artist is headed. I listen for fine details that really grab my ear, and not so much the song itself. There's a lot of that [unpredictability] in classical music.

You're an artist, software engineer, the author of three books on animal behavior, and you're credited with inventing cell phone predictive text. When do you sleep?

[Laughs] Thursday afternoons! That's it.

(Bruce Britt is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in The Washington PostUSA TodaySan Francisco ChronicleBillboard, and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.)