Peeking Through Artist Brookhart Jonquil’s Looking Glass

By Greta Hansen

So many of the artists at Art Basel or the other fairs last December came from other places. I spoke with the artist Brookhart Jonquil, who chose Miami as his home and shows with the Miami-based Dorsch Gallery. It was his second round of the fair. In 2011 his solo show in the IMPULSE section made a huge impression (he was runner-up for Pulse prize) so we caught up with him again to look back at his work in Miami.

You currently live in Miami. How does this change your perception of the Basel fair?
Brookhart Jonquil: It’s a topic of much discussion here. Living in Miami, there may be extra expectation to have your work up somewhere during the fair. For me it’s almost a different city during that week, it’s utterly unlike the rest of the year.

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What brought you to Miami?  Can you talk a bit about the Miami art scene during the other 11 months of the year?
After teaching for a year at the Art Institute and other schools in Chicago, I decided to leave but hadn’t made up my mind where to go. I was invited to do a three-month residency at LegalArt (now called Cannonball) and thought it would be a good transition, that I would figure it out while I was there. Besides, I had just started working with Dorsch Gallery and I wanted to get to know them better. Opportunities kept coming, so it felt like it didn’t make any sense to go running off somewhere else. It’s now been a little more than a year. Miami is a great place to be an artist, the quality of life is unbeatable, space is abundant and affordable, and there’s real excitement about the city developing it’s art scene, so it’s very welcoming if you’re young and making interesting work.

Have you always wanted to be an artist?  If there was another life path — did it relate somehow to the work you are doing now?
I’ve always been an artist, though there was a time when I could have gone in a number of different creative directions—poetry, acting, filmmaking, painting, sculpture — I even considered engineering and architecture. I studied art history thinking I was destined for an academic life. Ultimately I realized that as a visual artist, you don’t have to pick one thing, it’s radically open-ended. So what I do now incorporates many of those early interests, to whatever degree I need.

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I think some of those tendencies, architecture for instance, show up in your work with mirrors. “Light Object #5 (Double Triangle)” which you showed at Pulse last year used mirrors to create an imagined space out of light and perspective.
In that piece, a fluorescent tube passes through mirrors set at precise angles. The result is that the reflection of the tube creates specific geometric forms. The viewer doesn’t forget that they’re looking at a fluorescent tube, there’s no attempt at illusion, yet in that space between the mirrors something else happens at the same time — the thing dissolves into light, and that light combines with reflected light to give us an object in space that exists at the threshold of the immaterial.

Do you always use the same angle?
There’s a handful of angles that I use. Angles that divide the circle evenly create geometry. So there’s a finite number of shapes you can make – triangles, pentagons, hexagons, squares.

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When you were little did you have a bathroom mirror with pivoting panels?
No! But actually before I started making theseyears beforeI was playing with mirrors like that, watching geometry expand. I hadn’t thought of piercing the mirror yet, to create the form between the mirrors… just looking at the way that spaces multiply. I’m kind of nerdy about math and geometry. The shapes of the mirrors are all geometric relationships that correspond to the geometry of the lightbulbs themselves.

Your Light Objects series are smaller iterations of Inverted Night, a mirrored piece you made with a globe. Which portion of the world did you choose to represent?
It’s actually a sculpture in the round. As you walk around it you get one fifth of the world at a time. It’s like five different globes.

The interesting thing is how only one fifth of it is actually there and the rest of it is implied space.
There’s the physical material. And then there’s the light bouncing around that merges with it so the form that results is kind of a hybrid between the physical and the immaterial. And the space that it creates is real physical space and it’s also this immaterial space that pierces through the floor.

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I loved the mirror pieces, but noticed on your website some of the other mediums you’ve worked with in the past.  Can you talk about your past work?  How does it differ/relate to the piece you showed at Pulse?
Most of my work deals with the same constellation of issues, though the materials change with each project. For example, in Moisture Sample I embedded a panel of aluminum flush with the surface of the gallery wall, and behind this was a freezing mechanism. The piece itself occupies no space in the gallery, yet on the surface there was a dynamically shifting landscape of frost, which would slowly accumulate or melt and evaporate depending on the room’s atmosphere. So there was a constant shifting back and forth as the space became material and visa versa.

 Was there someone you studied with who informed your current work?
There were so many incredible teachers. Claudia Hart became a close friend. Gregg Bordowitz, Kathryn Hixson, Laurie Palmer, Chris Cutrone, Gaylen Gerber, all had huge impacts. There are too many to name.

What other artists — dead or alive — do you feel connected to?
The first artist to really blow my mind was Carl Andre. That was when I first started thinking about space as equally important to matter, about striking a balance between the physical and the intangible. Yves Klein, James Turrell and Robert Smithson are all very important to me.

Where can we see you next?
My next solo show opens at Dorsch Gallery in April.

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