Sunday, January 10, 2010

Novelty aside coffee-shop art beautiful

I can't remember when I first saw one of Jonathan Brilliant's coffee-stirrer sculptures. I just know I was impressed.

Yes, there's a kind of "Holy Sh--" factor to the work, but these enormous but airy works really are simply beautiful and well crafted. The fact that they're made out of common materials makes them even better in some ways, although at times it seems a distraction. I fear the novelty might block the view. It has for me from time to time, as has Brilliant's clever self-promotions such as stickers that read "F....king Brilliant. I have one on my car visor.

Still I like a completely serious artist who has a sense of humor.

See what you think. Brillaint's show “Sticks, Straws, Sleeves and Lids” opens Friday at the USC art department gallery.

The completed stirrer sculpture fills the center of the gallery from floor to ceiling. It’s about 15 feet wide and slightly deeper. Also in the show are to-go cup lid wall pieces, a green straw sculpture along with prints made using similar objects.

I stopped by the gallery a couple times while he was working to see how it was going. He's rather nonchalant about the whole affair, just doing the work of weaving stirrers together and letting the thing grow. It looks damn tedious.

Several years ago, Brilliant was struck by the usual stuff one finds in a coffee shop and set out make art using these things that he knew well and were around him all the time. At first he carried off supplies from
cafes but now purchases by the case.

Since then, he’s done about a dozen installations, about five of those during the last six months from New York to Berlin to Memphis.

Last summer he moved to his hometown of Charleston to Columbia (his wife Brooke is working on her master’s degree at USC) so we have him for a little while.

Brilliant will give a talk at the art department, located at Senate and Pickens streets, Jan. 26 at 4 p.m. followed by a reception. The show is up through Feb. 23. The gallery is open 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. weekdays only. Call (803) 777-4236.
There's a little video of the process at 
I'll also have a story about him and this show in this week's Free Times.


  1. I've seen several of Jonathan's exhibits and am repeatedly impressed. His work is fluid and fascinating, each installation taking on a life of its own. Took my grandchildren to one, and his work is as appealing to the under seven audience as to a more "mature" view. Also have two of his prints.

  2. Very cool. In the first photo, are those like 20 black bongs on the floor against the wall? If not, what are they? The video was lovely. Are those stirrers recycled or does he buy them new? Brilliant!

  3. Great write-up, I am a big believer in commenting on blogs to inform the blog writers know that they’ve added something worthwhile to the world wide web!..
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