Courtesy of Jonathan Brown
Jonathan Brown didn’t know the word “mosaic” when he was a teenager backpacking through Central America. The Houston native had moved around a lot as a kid and after meeting a girl at the age of 17, started a trek that would last 13 months and take him all the way to the Mayan temples of Belize. He didn’t realize that he had stumbled upon inspiration that will lead to an illustrious career.
As Brown detailed in a recent one-on-one interview, “I was always an artistic type, always drawing. And literally the whole time while I was traveling Central America, everywhere I went, I was always sketching something. And I would sell my sketches for like $100. And for the European travelers, it was nothing to them. So, that’s why Il asked so long down there was just selling my sketches.”
After being on the road for over a year, the United States called Brown home. “I’m the mountains in Panama,” Brown recalled. “We’re sitting there on a privately owned mountain, friends of friends, and I see a pack of wild horses run by. And at the time I was literally thinking, ‘I’m just going to cash in this ticket and go to Hong Kong, because I wanted to go to Asia.’ But then I saw these horses, and I thought, ‘Oh, I was born in Houston, Texas, horses and all.’ So that was that. Four days later I was on the plane to Houston, Texas.”
Upon his return, Brown rented a small, unfurnished apartment with the little money he had left. When a friend gave him a wood crate to use as a table, Brown recalled those Mayan temples and transformed the bland box into a work of art. “I thought, ‘You know, what, let’s just tile it. Let’s just do this mosaic thing,’” remarked Brown. “By then I figured out what the word was.”
What may have started out as a craft project launched a successful business. “A couple of weeks later, a lawyer friend of my mothers that she knew from Houston came over to visit with me,” Brown explained. “He bought the table for $5,000 and sold it for $7,000 a couple of days later. So I took the $5,000 and I became Modern Mosaics Incorporated right there.”
But the young entrepreneur needed to build a business in a pre-Internet world. “Literally, I would pick up the Yellow Pages and every day. I would start a day and like a year later I finished that Yellow Book,” Brown confessed. “I just called anyone and everyone and literally just said, ‘I’m the best. You need to hire me. I can do this. I can do this.’”
What started as an aspiration to design furniture quickly expanded to enormous proportions. “I ended up finding a company by the name of Skyline Art Services… I called them for every two weeks on a Tuesday. And eventually two years later, he said, ‘You know what, I’m tired of you calling me. Just come in here and show me what the hell you’re talking about if you’re so good.’ And, so I showed up and literally that’s just how it happened.”
The first job Brown completed for that client was a large hospital project. Originally he was going to focus on installing glasswork on the floor of a terminal children’s wing. But as he recounted, “I walked into the hospital floor and there were all these pillars. They were ugly in this real big space of this hospital. As soon as I saw the pillars… I switched the whole idea and said let me cover all of the pillars in a metal skeleton of tress and then I’ll hand make real trees right here on the floor.” Brown won the craftsmanship award for the State for the innovative design.
That ability to see the potential and to adapt his concept to work in a space has led Brown all the way to his most recent project — a 121-foot mural of a waterfall that is the biggest installation in Madison, Wisconsin. Brown was among 370 artists who pitched to get the job. But when his client suggested that the towering wall might be the perfect spot for a waterfall, Brown ran with the concept, enhancing the large-scale mural with a stain glassed awning that is kissed by light that hits the ground and trickles onto the street giving the space a sense of life.
That’s another big advantage that Brown brings to his clients. He and his team are willing and able to work in any artistic medium that enhances a project. While Brown primarily works in high-end, detailed mosaic, he doesn’t limit himself. He acknowledged, “It’s always amazing to me when we run up against these other artists like a wood sculptor and he has no idea how to paint, he’s never painted… We always giggle and laugh going, ‘Wow, how is that possible?’ Cause we switch mediums so quickly like it’s nothing.”
But there is continuity that runs through the majority of Brown’s work and that’s his personal artistic vision. “I’ve always called as a futurism style — a very particular modern, cut edge. I’ve switched over to that style over the last 20 years…
A lot of the nature scenes are some beautiful realistic type of scenes. But I really get down to the nitty-gritty of it, even those highly detailed paintings, in my brain, I’m still seeing them as futurism.”
To see what the future will look like for Jonathan Brown and Modern Mosaics Incorporated visit their official website.