Expert Ease: Jonathan Mandell Glass Artist

Bar Scene IV


“I’d been studying sculpture in the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Fine Arts program when an Egyptian classmate suggested I try my hand at mosaics, traditional in his homeland. They turned out to be the perfect mix of sculpture, painting and drawing, providing endless opportunities for visual and tactile exploration. I was hooked.”

In Mandell’s hands, shards of glass, ceramic tile and slivers of mirror, shells and semi-precious stones – among dozens of other materials – create the palette for what he calls his “mosaic paintings.” Each is chosen for a specific reason, color, pattern, texture and particularly shape – essential for the basrelief aspect he strives for – and meticulously arranged into exquisitely detailed artworks: whimsical, slice-of-life scenes, religious images, portraits and three-dimensional sculptures. Some are private commissions for homes, others are created for hospitals, universities, sports arenas and businesses. “All hopefully,” he comments, “uplifting.”

Represented by the Silverman Gallery in Buckingham, PA, Mandell also teaches; coming up in September, “A Painterly Approach to Mosaic” at the Touchstone Center for the Arts in Farmington, PA. He also authored the book, “Jonathan Mandell Mosaics: The Juncture of Sculpture, Paint and Drawing.”


The work required is rigorous, sometimes starting with a precise sketch, at other times developed freehand with Mandell moving different elements about, finding exactly the right place for each within the composition. Then he applies the grout, which acts as drawing lines, establishing the illusion of such visual effects as depth, volume or motion.

“Most gratifying is partnering conceptually with clients,” he adds, “especially when they come to me with an idea that seems totally impossible.”

One extreme example, done for a private home, is a 72 ”x 48 ”x 2 ”depiction of the Great Room at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, hung with 30 Post-Impressionist masterpieces, including Matisse’s The Dance, Picasso’s The Peasants and Prendergast’s The Beach. Each painting is painstakingly rendered with such materials as quartz, jasper, glass and fossilized seashells set within a landscape made primarily of ceramic tile. “It’s a good thing I like challenges,” Mandell starts to chuckle. “It took five or six weeks to complete!”

What’s next for the artist? “There are infinite possibilities, but I really enjoy making art for sports stadiums . . . the interaction of players, composing a narrative . . . it’s fascinating. There are countless stories to be told.”

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