Sunday, July 5, 2009

Pretty Brilliant artist arrives in Columbia

One of Charleston’s higher-profile artists recently moved to Columbia.

Jonathan Brilliant is a curly-haired man of 32 who is confident and also quick to say he’s still trying to figure out what he’s going to do when he grows up. It’s a good artistic attitude.

Most recently the Charleston native, who earned a master of fine arts from San Jose State in 2007, has been making huge wooden sculpture out of little tiny pieces of wood. The wood he uses is those thin, six-inch long sticks you’ll find in all the better coffee shops. He brings his boxes of coffee stirrers (about 70,000 fit in a stack of boxes about four feet tall and three feet wide) and starts working, feeling out the space and the artwork as he goes along, finding the right fit.

“I just get in there and go,” said Brilliant, sitting in the Gervais Street Starbucks. (Starbucks is where he used to “liberate” materials, but now he buys them.)

These tightly packed shreds of wood then grow into something that is 20-by-20 feet in size. Someone told him that his sculptures are “studies in inefficient storage.”

He’s done the pieces in several places and in late summer will head on the road to create works in Oklahoma, Tennessee and New York (the last will

mostly likely be a woven acrylic piece.)

In late July, he’s in a group show at Redux Contemporary Art in Charleston for which he is creating a piece that uses a vibrating table and coffee cups. (An early version at right.) It’s for the ears as well as the eyes. He plans to have the sound “phase” in which the sounds shift out of time with one another. It’s a technique developed by Steve Reich of whom Brilliant is a big fan.

“My wife wants me to get it out of the house,” he said. “She finds the sound really irritating.”

The artist actually started out as a musician and played drums with a bunch of bands during his high school year. After graduating he worked for several years before starting at the College of Charleston as an art history major. As part of that, he was required to take a drawing class – and at 21 he knew nothing about making art. He spent two years studying with a professor known for his meticulous old-fashioned technique.

Brilliant and his wife Brooke moved to Columbia this summer where she is working on a master’s degree in anthropology at the University of South Carolina. He was most recently a preparator at the Gibbes Museum of Art where he worked on the “Prop Master” installation art project. Since coming to Columbia he’s set up shop in his house and carport and has been looking for a simple, cheap studio.

From top: Sumter installation, City Gallery in Charleston, in-process vibrating coffee cup piece which will be at Redux in Charleston later this month. Brilliant at work


  1. It would be great to see Johnathan's work displayed somewhere in Columbia.

  2. Wow! Thanks for letting us know about this! Can't wait to see some of his work. Debi

  3. you can see a show of mine open January 15th 2010 at The McMaster Gallery at University of South Carolina. thanks for the kind words.


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