HL Artist Interview: Jonathan Brown, From Broken Glass To Beauty, One Piece at a Time

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When artist Jonathan Brown looks at the raw material for his grand large-scale mosaic projects, where some people only see broken glass, he envisions complete works of art incredible installation pieces designed inspire, lift the spirit, or enhance their natural surroundings.

When he was only 18, Brown harnessed a passion to design and construct unique mosaics with the formation of Modern Mosaics, Inc. and he has been very busy ever since, producing work that dazzles the eye and delights clients all over the world.

Brown reveals, in this exclusive interview, the methods behind his one-of-a-kind creations.

Hank Putnam: What makes your work stand out and look so different from other artists that work with mosaics?

Jonathan Brown: A couple of things: 1.This is custom-made, highly detailed work, not the usual ordinary abstract patterns others do, with tile. I take the time to color the grout (the form of concrete typically used to connect all the pieces) in each mosaic with a certain color, according to the design. I can’t believe so many people only fill them in with gray. 2. Instead of ceramic tile, I use glass. Glass gives each project I design brilliant colors you won’t get from anything else. A couple of the biggest projects, like a recent one in Utah, and some of the other mosaics, are outside. Most of the public has never seen such detail in a mosaic project outdoors.   

HP: Does an outdoor installation present different challenges?

JB: Completely. For example, I wrote a proposal for a 500 foot exterior wall in West Palm Beach, and you have to consider all the materials- the grout, and even the colors, for longevity, and the weather, you name it. One of our last outdoor mosaics, a glass inlay of a Koi pond, on a driveway, had to be so sturdy the owner could park a car on it. I grouted it with terrazzo and it’s super-strong. The client loved it.

HP: Do you ever feel like you are biting off more than you can chew?

JB: No, it’s never occurred to me. I think big. But even with a huge budget, you have to break it all down to baby steps. It’s like building anything. You just start from the ground and work your way up.

HP: How did you get started?

JB: It’s in my blood. Even when I was a little kid, I was always making art, and taking things apart. When I was 12, I took our family refrigerator apart, and had it in about 100 pieces, spread all over the floor. Now, I put things back together.

HP: Does this work require a Zen-like form of patience?

JB: Without a doubt. The only way I can explain it, is with Tetris (the tile-matching video puzzle game). You get into a zone, and fall into a kind of trance. When I was 17, I played it so fast, I literally broke the game. I still make potential employees play Tetris, and I can tell in 20 minutes if they have the aptitude.

 

HP: Was Gaudi’s famous park in Barcelona an inspiration?

JB: Absolutely. I spent two days in that park! When I saw his mosaics there, I had to know everything about him. I knew that I had found somebody just like me.

HP: What’s your dream project, the next big thing?

JP: I guess I always think each project is a dream job. I was down in a large empty swimming pool, on one mosaic, for nearly thirteen months. As soon as I finished the pool, though, I was already thinking about the next project. Right now, I want to build a 150-foot diameter colored glass umbrella, floating over a city park. I’ve also been missing the smaller residential pieces, like wall hangings, or chandeliers. But they’re so time-consuming. That’s why I am so excited about our new tables. They are so beautifully detailed, so colorful, it’s the perfect art furniture. You can put one in a room full of antiques or a fancy modern house and it works. 

HP: It sounds like you may not have found a pot of gold, but you’ve built your own rainbow.

JP: Exactly. For me, it’s the coolest job you could ever have. And it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It keeps you on your toes, one piece at a time.

HP: Based in Houston, Texas, Jonathan Brown’s Modern Mosaics Inc. has garnered international acclaim for custom projects that encompass nearly every possibility in hand-made commercial, residential, or public mosaic art. In addition to his prominent urban work, Brown is also known for his fountains, flooring, furniture, and lighting designs.

For more about Brown’s art, visit http://www.mosaicart.us/

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