As lovers of Haute Horology, and the art that is fine watchmaking, we’re also drawn to other intricate art forms and love to support artists. This includes the fine art mosaics created by artist local Jonathan Mandell.
About Jonathan Mandell
Jonathan Mandell is a fine art tile artist, from the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He combines painting, sculpture and drawing to create one of a kind mosaics. No two pieces of tile, glass, stone or marbles are the same. He plays off the surface of his pieces using convex and concave pieces of glass.
You can find his work on permanent display all over the Delaware Valley and throughout the United States. He has created special pieces for Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois. In addition to creating prominent pieces of art, he teaches at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. He also teaches “A Painterly Approach to Mosaics” at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Main Line Art Center.
Interview with Jonathan
To learn even more, and view additional mosaics, find him online at: jonathanmandell.com
How, and when, did you first know you wanted to pursue mosaics as an art form?
I was in the middle of working on my MFA (Master of Fine Arts) at the Graduate School of Fine Arts of the University of Pennsylvania (MFA 1990) focusing on sculpture. I was working with welding, carving, clay modeling etc., putting out a range of types of work. An Egyptian friend in the program who was a painter, Selim El Sherif, suggested that I try mosaic as it was a very approachable medium, involving cutting and gluing parts. Mosaic allowed me to unleash my inner painter as I was now focusing on color and spatial composition.
Where do you source the materials that you work with?
My art is made using hand blown glass shards, ceramic tile, and a range of semi-precious stones and minerals. I collect materials over time and then cut and set them into my compositions. Not making your own materials forces you to take a very fluid approach to problem solving as you have to create solutions based on how much you have of any given material.
The semi-precious stones and minerals that I work with add a beautiful range of natural textures to the mosaic surface. Light plays a key role as well since all of my materials have a high gloss to them. When lit well, my mosaics sparkle and glisten like jewels.
You create both 2D and 3D images with mosaics, can you talk about the differences that go into creating the two styles, and any challenges either one possesses?
3-dimensional art takes the challenge to a whole other level. With 2 dimensional wall art, the imagery is read up and down or left to right. In sculpture the artwork’s surface curves around in space. The materials that I work with are rigid so I have to cut a series of straight pieces that will be fitted into a curve. In addition to making the artwork fit on to the curves of the form they are set on, you have the more important agenda of making the shapes and the lines that surround them, be understood as recognizable imagery.
This imagery has to make sense as the viewer moves around the 3D piece of art taking in the various points of view. Sculpture forces the viewer to actively engage as they have to circle around the 3 dimensional form to take in all of what is revealed in each view. Additionally, in my 2 dimensional art I work with hand blown glass shards.
The purpose of this is that these shards are convex and concave as they are from broken vessels and vases. I cut the curved glass in such a way the when applied to the mosaic surface it creates a bas relief or topographic quality. The mosaic is no longer flat. These curved pieces can create the effect of rolling hills or even the roll of a shoulder as it moves into the torso.
Who are some of your key influences?
In my time at Penn I was deeply influenced by one particular professor, Sewell Sillman. Professor Sillman worked extensively throughout his career with Josef Albers, the famed 20th Century colorist. Each week Professor Sillman travelled from Lyme Connecticut to Penn to teach two classes. One was in color theory and the other was in drawing. His color theory class involved the students using Color-aid paper which is a high quality package of colored paper with about 380 different shades and tones.
We spent hours applying one color to another in order to study the visual effects created. You could produce the illusion that one color was two different colors by the backgrounds that they there were applied to, or make two colors appear to be the same color. We learned that color is very fluid and that you could make color “act” in many different ways. In Professor Sillman’s drawing class it was all about use of line, making line “act”.
We created the illusions of depth perspective or that an object was 3 dimensional. I distilled the use of colored shapes and the use of line into the craft medium of mosaic, eventually replacing cut paper with cut tile and glass. My grout lines are designed to act as drawing lines, bringing my imagery to life.
My other great creative influence was my Egyptian friend, Selim El Sherif. His gift for painting was beyond anything that I have seen in my life time. He provided a really compelling sense of narrative in his work. I strive to provide narrative in my art as I believe that it gives the viewer an additional level to appreciate. I try to articulate concepts that we can all relate to as we move through our lives.
What is the time-frame for a typical project?
Time-frame depends on scale and complexity. Generally I create “mosaic” drawings for clients. This is particularly helpful when I do portraiture. With the drawing in hand, the client can provide input into how they are going to be rendered. Also a lot of the mystery of what the eventual piece will look like gets resolved. Larger commercial installations can take 8- 10 weeks.
Smaller residential works generally take around 3-4 weeks, depending on how long the drawing takes to be accepted, as well as the complexity of the assignment. I was twice commissioned by residential clients to create renderings of the Barnes Foundation’s great room. Imagine trying to capture the likeness of thirty Post Impressionist masterworks out of tile shards on a 1 -2 inch scale per painting.
How would you compare mosaics, and the process of creating them, to the world of watchmaking?
Both pursuits are very precision oriented and both require a combination of a vast array of parts to all work together in seamless harmony. The final result is an object that ultimately side steps the time line because of its beauty and appeal. The object will appear to be new and fresh and be a draw to all future generations. A Matisse painting is as alive with beauty today as the day it was created and will always have that characteristic.
The same applies to a Patek Philippe watch. Its timeless elegance is easily understood. It requires no explanation. It is all about refinement and elegance, very much akin to a work of art. Both mosaic art and watches also share the appeal of being able to be handled by the viewer. The tactile quality of each plays a key role in its appreciation.
Watchmaking and Other Art-forms
As Jonathan mentioned, the quality of a watch or in a sculpture plays a key role in its appreciation. This is why so many brands go above and beyond in their watchmaking. From the hand-finished detailing in the bracelets to the detail found in even the smallest of screws, these elements add the next level of refinement to an already beautiful piece of art.
Whether it is the hand-finished detailing or the beautiful enameling or guilloche on the dial, these are all different works of art relating to watchmaking and beyond. Brands such as Hublot and Piaget are known for pairing with artists to create beautifully designed dials.