• 10.24.11

“Coffee Shop” Artist Builds Monumental Sculptures Out Of Stir Sticks

Jonathan Brilliant turns the trappings of commercial coffee consumption into beautiful (and insanely complex) gallery installations.

“Coffee Shop” Artist Builds Monumental Sculptures Out Of Stir Sticks

Artists love to draw materials and inspiration from the natural environment. South Carolina-based Jonathan Brilliant (great name!) is no exception. It’s just that his preferred “natural environment” is what the rest of us think of as a morning pit stop: the coffee shop.


There, Brilliant gathers stir sticks, sugar packets, coffee cups, lids, and other trappings of commercial coffee consumption, and knits them into monumental, amorphous sculptures that’ve descended on exhibition halls across the United States. One installation, woven out of 70,000 stir sticks, covered the walls of the Kendall College of Art and Design Gallery, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as if the Bird’s Nest had collided with a Starbucks.

His work looks so complex that you’d think it came straight out of a CAD file. Wrong. “They are all based loosely on doodles, and ideas about the floorplans” of each gallery, he tells Co.Design. Then he goes about constructing structures by hand, relying on basic principles of tension and compression. “The more sticks that are woven together the stronger the bond across the surface,” he says. Often he secures the structures to a space’s existing architectural features. Sometimes he enlists tensed wires as “guiding elements.” Each installment of Have Sticks Will Travel takes eight to 10 days to build.

As for the name:

The way the work travels is: People invite me in and host me for two weeks while I construct the entire installation on site. I always tell people if you can sustain me and house me for the install time I can produce the work. Hence the running line Have Sticks Will Travel.

His next exhibit, at the True F. Luck Gallery in the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, opens November 4. Details here.

[Images via Flickr; hat tip to Collabcubed]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.