Monday, November 24, 2008

Art Space Talk: Jonathan Brilliant

Jonathan Brilliant is the first prize winner of the Miami Basel competition sponsored by myartspace and the Bridge Art Fair. The competition involved a world class jury panel from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Jose Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of Art and the Bridge Art Fair. Brilliant was born in 1976 in Charleston, South Carolina. He holds a B.A. in studio art from the College of Charleston and an M.F.A. in Spatial arts from San Jose State University.
The Goldsworthy of the Coffee Shop at SC State University, 30,000 wooden coffee stir sticks woven in place and held by tension, work created on site while in residence the week of oct 17-24 2008, Dimensions: variable; Medium: woven wooden coffee stir sticks

Brian Sherwin: Jonathan, you are the top finalist in the Miami Basel competition. As you know, the competition was a joint effort between and the Bridge Art Fair. Can you discuss what attracted you to the competition and why you decided to enter?

Jonathan Brilliant: I think like most people I was seduced by the caliber of the jury. I am always hesitant about submitting to things with an application fee, but when I saw which institutions the jurors were affiliated with, I figured what the hell. I am a big fan of the San Jose museum of Art, the Whitney and the SF MOMA.

BS: How did you feel going into the competition? Also, in your opinion, why is it important for artists to compete in juried competitions of this nature?

JB: I felt about the same as I always do when submitting; a bit like pitching pennies in a well. I don't know how important it is for artists to enter juried competitions of this nature. I do know that it has become part of my practice after I complete any installation to send it out somewhere to hopefully keep the momentum going.

The Goldsworthy of the Coffee Shop at SC State University. 30,000 coffee stir sticks woven in place and held by tension; Medium: woven wooden coffee stir sticks

BS: Jonathan, you studied Spatial Arts at San Jose State University. Can you briefly discuss your academic background? For example, did you have any influential instructors? How did your studies impact your development as an artist?

JB: I should back up and say that my background in the visual arts is almost entirely academic on some level. Before San Jose State I studied art at The College of Charleston, and before that I lived in a cabin in Houston, Alaska. To say I came to making art by wayof academics would be an understatement. I am, was, and always will be a drummer. My first love affair with art made with sticks is drumming. That being said when I entered college at age 21 I hadn't a clue what I wanted to do with my life, on some level I still don't, but I gravitated towards the visual arts because they scratched the same itch as music.

By the time I arrived at San Jose State I was coming off of a good run at making my work mostly in isolation and showing finished works in a gallery. Graduate school gave me a captive audience to test things, and ideas. Not really in a sinister way, but just in a way that helped me better understand what the audience was experiencing.

As far as influential artists in my life I can name a few. At San Jose State University I was particularly impacted by my friend Shannon Wright. Shannon was the first one to really challenge me to make work that I enjoyed as an audience member. She is someone I am still in constant contact with and her input is always welcome, although these days we talk more about non-artsy things.
Another tremendous influence on my practice is David Kimball Anderson. David is a great dude. He is this super funny, insightful, well-informed artist. David is a master of mixing chaos, and control, refinement and rawness, something I strive for.

Finally in graduate school I immersed myself in the art that I loved. I became a devoted follower of British sculpture since the 70's and American post minimalist art of the 60's. Somewhere in there I started filtering all that through my personal lense of southerness, and arrived at my current direction

The Goldsworthy of the Coffee Shop at the Dam Stuhltrager Gallery. For 12 days Brilliant wove 50,000 stir sticks while in residence at the Dam Stuhltrager Gallery in Williamsburg Brooklyn.

BS: Tell us about your installations. For example, you have created works from thousands of wooden coffee stir sticks that are woven in place and held by tension. You have also utilized coffee cup lids and other materials as your medium of choice. What attracted you to utilizing said materials?

JB: I am just intrigued by all the materials related to the ritual of coffee and the to-go coffee cup. I find them to be the most practical familiar materials around. I have handled them way more than most other materials. In many cases it is just that my eyes are always open to the potential for making art in my everyday life. I am constantly looking around, when I see a pile of stuff on the side of the road, or anywhere there is free materials I am there. In the woven stir stick installations it is a very practical decision. I know if I have x number of days to work in the gallery to make the piece, I need x number of sticks, so I guess being practical influences my decisions a bit.

BS: Can you tell us about the process of these works? For example, is there a great deal of planning or is there room for you to follow your intuition, so to speak?

JB: I would say there is more practice than planning. Like a musician rehearsing or an athlete practicing, I am always working on my art. Before an installation I will do some practice weaving to make sure I am up to speed. In most cases I only have a couple of pictures of the space ahead of time, so I just sort of guess how many sticks it will taketo fill the space. When I arrive I immediately begin working. Before my mind has had time to wander I start weaving.

In the process of weaving, I begin to get a sense of the feeling of the space and imagine how I want the piece to flow. Oftentimes I just follow the line of stir sticks and let the weaving guide me. The decisions are sort of made on the fly, and sometimes when a section collapses in the process, I have to remake that section and that will dictate the direction of the piece. I think of the installations as drawing my way around the room, kind of like a big systematic, dimensional, scribble.

The Goldsworthy of the Coffee Shop at the Dam Stuhltrager Gallery

BS: You also work in video, photography, and digital imaging. When working across one medium to another would you say that they are all connected in some way? For example, does photography inform your sculptural works, and so on?

JB: Photography is just part of my sketchbook practice. I keep a sketchbook and a camera with me at all times, just in case I see or think of something. As for informing each other,yes. Recently I started taking multiple photographs from several angles of the installations in order to collage these photos together to create a record of the installation. I am hoping to send one of these collages down to Miami, along with a woven section and another related work on paper.

I find that digital imaging tools are also quite useful. For example the clonening tool within the Photoshop interface really appeals to me, since it creates patterns systematically the way that I do with my rust on paper works, the woven works and even the welded pieces.

BS: Can you give our readers some insight into projects you would like to take on in the future? Can you give us a glimpse of some of the ideas that you have?

JB: Have stir sticks will travel. I am really interested in creating more fully encapsulated environments. Up until now the installations have been dictated by a 7-14 day work time. If I had more time, say 3-6months, I could really blow it out.

As for the immediate future, I plan to continue working in the studio. I have a new series of drawings I am working on, and just the other day I found a few thousand wire coat hangers and started weaving those together. I have some really big wooden stir sticks I am making out of old ikea bed slats, so the future is wide open.

The Sumter Piece, for 12.5 days Brilliant wove stir sticks from the second floor through to the first floor as part of the Sumter accessibility residency program.

BS: You describes yourself as a Southern has-been and a British Wanna-Be. In one project you assumed the role of a British artist who gathers materials in his natural environment and uses them to execute a site-specific installation. It appears that humor, in general, plays a major role in how you perceive yourself. Can you discuss that and how it enters your work?

JB: Sure, I think I subscribe to the Monty python/Simpsons/Marx brothers school of humor. I hope that some of that comes through. Although I am quite serious about the work I do, I am hardly a serious person. I mean can you imagine me at a job interview

interviewer: “Jonathan, we here at The Office really need someone with special talents do you have any?”

me: “Oh sure I can turn your whole office supply closet into a visually stunning installation rendering your closet and supplies useless in the process, and I am really good at liberating materials from coffee shops.”

interviewer: “You're Hired!”

I mean I live in Stephen Colbert’s hometown, that tends to have an effect on a person!

BS: Would you say that most artists take their work too seriously? In your opinion, does that hold artists back at times?

JB: I can't speak for most artists, I know I take myself too seriously and it holds me back sometimes. But you can never take art too seriously, it is a labor of love, and on some level we have to divorce the artwork from the artist.

BS: I noticed that you have had dozens of exhibits in South Carolina. That said, is regional success important to you?

JB: You know whether I am in Sumter South Carolina, Charleston South Carolina, Orangeburg South Carolina, Greensboro North Carolina, Brooklyn New York, or San Jose California, or San Jose De Cabo Mexico, I am going to rock it out and make the best work I can.

BS: Speaking of exhibits… aside from Bridge Miami, will you be involved with anyother upcoming exhibits?

JB: I don't want to spoil it, because you know funding is all up in the air, but I am supposed to do an installation and possible public piece in May for the City of Charleston here. I have a couple of proposals floating out there, maybe winning this will help them take hold.

I want to remind people that I am the perfect recession-era installation artist for a non-profit or university gallery if anyone is looking for installation artists, or a funny inspiring lecturer I know one. Oh yeah and I am having an invitation only oyster roast and open studio some time in February, it will be called "Beg, Borrow, and Steel" email me for more information and to be put on the list.

The Goldsworthy of the Coffee Shop at Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, SC--2006

BS: Would you like to discuss some of your other recent accomplishments? For example, I read that you received a full fellowship from the Joan Mitchell Foundation in 2007. Can you tell us about that experience?

JB: Yeah, to clarify that was a full fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center for a month long residency, nothing short of a great experience. I actually applied to the Vermont Studio Center and didn't think I would get the full fellowship, but when I did Ijumped up and down. I met some amazing people, and maintain contact with themto this day. The experience definitely shaped me, and is the main reason that Ipainted a recent steel sculpture titled “Big Ass Water Bottle” white, I wastrying to sort of capture my memory of the Vermont Studio Experience.

BS: I noticed that you utilize the internet for your career goals. You have a personal website, a blog, and you use art sites like In your opinion, why is it important for artists, specifically emerging artists, to take advantage of the internet and what it has to offer?

JB: I am a big fan of the internet, it beats the hell out of sending out actual physical slides.Seriously though, I think people should only use tools they are comfortable and familiar with. The internet is good, but it is no substitute for actually getting out and seeing work you love and connecting with other artists in person. If somebody lives somewhere and they see a bunch of art stuff on the internet, or more importantly in a book, they should really make an effort to see it in person if possible.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a slight passion I have for the Google search algorithm. I for one was not happy when they changed the search algorithm sometime last year. Since my last name is an adjective, my family name by birth in case you are wondering, I had trouble getting Google juice. Once I began to engage with the internet and taught myself some real basic web stuff, I began to get the Google ranking and notjust the occurrence of the name Jonathan and the adjective brilliant. So all and all this internet experiment seems to be a good thing.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or thegoals that you have?

JB: Have you tried the new espresso truffle at Starbucks, that shit is the bomb!

You can learn more about Jonathan Brilliant by visiting the following websites--, You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

innovative: congratulations

no color - just form and texture/


Anonymous said...

absolutely impressed with the artist's ability to conceive on this scale, and execute tenaciously with such humble materials... congratulations