Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Jonathan Mandell | Mosaic Artist

Interview :: Jonathan Mandell
by Ruth Weisberg, 1 Jan 2008

Jonathan is one of the nation's leading mosaic artists. His work can be found in both homes and baseball stadiums, including Philadelphia's very own Citizen's Bank Park, in places of worship, in places of business, and in museums across the country. Jonathan's latest mosaic installation is a 10' x 6' piece of work, which is now on display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

To see more of Jonathans' work, check out his website:

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Host: Ruth Weisberg; Production: Tat Communication:
Tom Thompson, Videographer; Sage Thompson, Lighting/Sound; Editing, Jessica Lloyd

PCG: What a really cool space here. So this is where you do your magic!

JM: Yes, this is the salt mines. I'm in here every day, working on pieces from small to large.

PCG: Looking around, I see that you have some completed pieces of work, while others are a work in progress. Give us a quick tour. What do you have going on here?

JM: I have a piece, "Gone With The Wind," featuring the classic scene with Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara. In that, I'm using ceramic tile and glass shards. I work with glass shards, which are an interesting material. Glass shards are broken waste from hot shops where they blow glass. So you have these convex and concave shapes, and that allows me to do research into bas relief and surface topography, so it's not a flat mosaic anymore. And then there's a portrait of my daughter Olivia.

"I feel like a part of the city somehow, in having my work there [the National Constitution Center]. It was a tremendous honor."

PCG: Your latest mosaic is now hanging in the National Constitution Center. What did you want to accomplish with that particular piece of work?

JM: Yeah, it's amazing. I feel like a part of the city somehow, in having my work there. It was a tremendous honor. And my goal with that piece was to create something that was emblematic of the Constitution Center. And that has 10 running feet of mirror on it. It's a reflection where you have the three houses of government—the White House, the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court. And I have it set at kid height, so the kids see themselves reflected in the government. And specifically with that, I was just there the other night showing some friends the mosaic, and there's fingerprints and saliva and smudge marks, and you know the kids are on it, and it's nice.

PCG: So that's actually a good sign!

JM: They're engaging the work.

PCG: You started out as a sculptor. How'd you wind up as the accidental mosaic artist?

JM: I have a MFA from the University of Pennsylvania, which I got in 1990. I was a sculpture student there. And then I was introduced to mosaic by a painter friend of mine. He was showing me how you can really take the mosaic and bring it to another level. And it was like a light bulb going off, that the mosaic was the technique work, combining the sculpture and paint and drawing all at once: grout lines were my drawing lines, the color composition is my painterly composition, and the fabrication of the pieces and the bas relief were the sculpture concerns.

PCG: What's the DNA of a mosaic? How do all these pieces then fit together?

JM: Well, I'm a pack rat. I collect materials—tiles, glass shards, different semi-precious stones, metals, minerals, shells and then white-washed panel. And then I do a pencil lay-out so the composition isn't six inches to the right. And then do the color composition rather spontaneously. I start grabbing different materials and put this amount of blue, or this amount of yellow, and create the color composition and color balance that I'm looking for, as it's going on.

PCG: You recently did a mosaic of the Beatles' "Sgt. Peppers." That really meant a lot to you.

JM: What I like to do with mosaic is to push it in as many different directions as possible. So there, I'm doing portraiture, and working with tile shards and shaping them in such tight parameters, and it has to look like someone, so that's a real challenge. I work with grout lines as drawing lines. So, for example, the rim of John Lennon's eyeglasses are the grout lines that imply he's wearing glasses. It was a real challenge to do, and fun.

PCG: What's on your artistic wish list?

JM: I'd like to have my work in the Art Museum. That'd be wonderful! For me, it's a validation, in a fine art way, of my approach in this craft medium, and trying to push it in these directions.

PCG: To see more of Jonathans' work, check out his website: For Philly Creative Guide, I'm Ruth Weisberg. Thanks for watching.

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