Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp



Artist of the Week - Jonathan Brilliant

Posted 10/20/2011 6:01:00 PM

Art lovers around the world have been applauding the work of South Carolina’s Jonathan Brilliant. The aptly named visual artist has been making waves with his large-scale art installations that transform the everyday into eye-catching, extraordinary works of art.

He recently concluded his “Have Sticks Will Travel” tour in which he created 13 separate installations in three countries using only wooden coffee stir sticks that you might find in any local coffeehouse.

Brilliant is a native of Charleston and a 2012 South Carolina Arts Commission Visual Arts Fellow. Recently, I had the chance to ask him some questions about his work.

Q: Your work has been exhibited nationally and internationally -- what are you working on right now?

At this very moment I am prepping for my show and residency at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, which starts next week. I am also working on designs for a new permanent outdoor work for the city of North Charleston.

Q: During your recent “Have Sticks Will Travel World Tour,” how did each space and location influence your work?

In many ways the empty spaces are the sole inspiration for my work. I always like to use the drawing analogy to describe my process. In this sense the gallery is my sheet of paper, and the sticks, or whatever materials I use, are my pen marks. Many of the galleries and venues had unique features or oddities in their space. These sorts of quirks are often times what I focus on to help define the piece. This is why I am so drawn to working this way, it allows this series of work to respond directly to the place where it is created and presented. I really do want the audience to experience the piece exactly where it was made, and this way I am always seeing the finished piece for the first time right along with them.

Q: I find your woven stir stick installations so evocative, even though they're made of such "everyday" objects. What inspired you to use them as a material in your work?

I started out playing around with materials from "the natural" environment, like branches and other found objects. Very quickly I felt like making special trips into the woods for materials was unnatural, so I looked to my own "natural" environment, the coffee shop. From there I began seeing what materials I could find within that environment and how I could use them to make work. It wasn't until I began really expanding the work in residencies that I found the excitement and potential I still see in this set of materials.

Q: Your "Field of Good Fortune" was chosen by the Columbia Design League as part of its "Play with Your City" contest. Can you describe that installation, and what effect did you hope it would have on people in downtown Columbia?

The field was composed of a series of 4x12 foot fortune cookie fortunes. The images had been scanned directly from collected fortunes and scaled up and printed on aluminum sheets. These large fortunes were then arranged in ways so as to mimic the pathway through the green space on the corner of Main and Lady streets in downtown Columbia. The first goal of the project was to create a modest temporary intervention into the space. The secondary goal was to have some fun with the found text and imagery of the fortunes. As far as level of engagement, I just hoped that those who regularly walked their dogs and themselves through that greenspace got a little extra enjoyment, and maybe a few new people slowed down when strolling around that corner.

Q: Where can people see your work?

Currently there are some prints hanging at the Warehouse Theater in Greenville. There are some works on paper in a group show at the Bank of America Plaza in Charlotte, and I just had an installation close at The Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Coming up, I have an installation opening at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond on Nov. 4. I have an installation opening Jan. 19 at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, and I have a solo show at Columbia College opening in February. I also have some pieces in a couple of group shows down in Charleston. In one of the group shows at The Robert Lange Studios in Charleston I will be installing some of the 12-foot fortunes from "field of good fortune."

Q: Is there a place in South Carolina that you find particularly inspiring?

Three places are tied in my mind right now for most inspiring. One is the Starbucks on Calhoun Street directly across from the College of Charleston in the old Goodie House restaurant building. I love that spot because I have been going there to get food and coffee in one form or another since I was in elementary school. I also love it because it is where I used to sit and draw in between classes at the College of Charleston.

The second is the old gun turret out on Sullivan’s Island around station 28. It is one of my favorite objects, and I love seeing it being slowly buried and unburied over the years by the tide.

The last spot is the old brickyards just past the Blossom Street bridge in Columbia. I love those old kilns and the whole juxtaposition of these hulking brick forms against the development community behind it.