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Jonathan Mandell discusses his Kobe Bryant mosaic

Kobe Bryant-72dpi

Part of Kobe Bryant's court dedication at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania last week entailed Jonathan Mandell of Fine Art Mosaics presenting a mosaic in Bryant's honor. Mandell, who has constructed various mosaics depicting various Philadelphia sports figures, including Wilt Chamberlain and Brian Westbrook, recently shared his insight on the Bryant mosaic.

On the project's origin: In August, I created a large mosaic for Lower Merion High School. It's 10 x 6 and Lower Merion just opened their new building this fall. The large-scale mosaic has all kinds of things and the center of it is an image of the old high school and all around it are different scenes of education, arts and sports and history of the school. One of the scenes is the Kobe basketball team from '96. In that section is the whole team -- 18 players and the coach and all that. Kobe is in this large mosaic, but each head is maybe an inch or an inch-and-a-half high. It's tiny and hard to really get into doing portrait likeness. I had been dealing with the school administration in the development and fabrication of the large-scale mosaic. It came to light that Kobe was going to be the sponsor of the gymnasium there. I made the suggestion that it would be a nice way to honor him there for me to do a Kobe Bryant larger scale where I could really get into a fine-tuned version of the portrait likeness.

On the concept behind Bryant's mosaic: It's 4 foot by 3 foot and I was researching images of him at his time at Lower Merion and had found this great action shot. I thought it really captured a moment in time. I went with that. My process is that I create my drawings on the computer, where I'm literally designing the tile shapes that create the mosaic. You get a clear sense in advance on how I'm going to approach the portrait likeness. Then I review that with the people at Lower Merion and then we decided to proceed with that rendering of it.

I used the computer as a design tool. It doesn't do the designing for me. I could do it with cut paper but doing it on Photoshop, I'm creating the shapes and deciding how I'm going to break up the anatomy. I have these drawing lines that are descriptive of the anatomy so his head looks like a skull and it's three-dimensional so that his torso moves the way the spine moves. It creates the believability of physical motion. The hand-posturing and all these kinds of things are based on a study of the way the body works. I mostly used ceramic tile and metallic tile as well. With the larger piece, I also involved glass, semi-precious stones and minerals as well, but I didn't really see the application for it in the Kobe piece to use stones and minerals. It wasn't going to enhance the piece. But I usually work with the range of the materials.

I was trying to capture him doing what it is that he does. One of the things with a mosaic is it tends to be a more static medium. To create the illusion of motion is something to achieve. That's what I was striving to do. You get the motion and tension of his action and all that. A lot of this is conveyed through the cement joints. One of the things that's different about my approach to mosaic is that the route lines act as drawing lines and they create a sense of depth perspective and the volume and form of what you're looking at has the appearance of being solid and dimensional. That's really what I was trying to capture -- the action and the moment.

Why this image stuck out among the various pictures he saw of Bryant at Lower Merion High School: When I'm looking at images as source material, sometimes I put several images together. But in this case, I just saw this one photo. I'm looking for images that have a strong narrative content. You look at the image and you tell the story and what it's about. To me, there was a lot of narrative clarity. It captured the power of his play and elegance of his movement and all that in one still shot. There's a real sense of motion and tension in these things that I was trying to capture in the artwork in the original image. To me it was something great as a platform to work from.


On Bryant's reaction to the mosaic: "He was really thrilled with it. I got a little bit of time with him during the presentation. But things get really compressed time-wise when you're in a situation like that. But he seemed really happy with it. He told us at the event that he wears his Lower Merion trunks under his Laker trunks. He described Lower Merion as his university and it furthering his education. He has a very tight connection to the school. To capture him in his high school days was very meaningful.

On what Bryant's ceremony means to him considering he's a 1980 alum at Lower Merion: It's great to see somebody who achieved so much maintain the connection. He's on the West Coast and we're on the East Coast. It wouldn't be that hard to see things go the wayside. There's so many things he could focus his attention on in Los Angeles. But the fact he chose to maintain his roots and there are still teachers he's in touch with on a regular basis is special. One of his favorite teachers, [English teacher Jeanne Mastriano], was one of the keynote speakers at the dedication. She was very eloquent in the way she talked about Kobe, not so much as Kobe the athlete, but Kobe the person. She's an English teacher and clearly not a sports person, but she was able to talk about him as a person. That was very meaningful to get insights into his character from somebody who really isn't that inclined toward the sport. It was a nice way for everyone to get an insight into what he's like and her experience and her connection with him.


You mentioned on your website that you try to "deliver new relevance to the established symbols of man, biblical and mythical, in mosaics depicting secular and nonsecular subjects." What do you feel you revealed about Kobe in your mosaic? What I was trying to deliver with Kobe was a straightforward, easily-understood image of his power and elegance as an athlete and to capture him in his youth before he really hit his heights of glory. The mosaic is a medium, like most art forms, was born out of the liturgic. Art back in the day was a religious thing. Then it became more of a secular thing. But if you look at museums, older art tends to be religious imagery. The same with mosaics -- you see ancient Christian, ancient Jewish and ancient Muslim approaches to mosaic. For me, it was where I began my approach to mosaic. I have a master of fine arts and sculpture from what was the Graduate School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. I got my degree in 1990. ... When you study paint, you have your paint, your canvas, your brush and there's a million different techniques. But with sculpture you can learn to weld, carve wood, model clay. There's so many different techniques you can experiment and learn and figure out what your voice is going to be.

I'm Jewish and I started out doing synagogue work and stuff like that. That was a natural starting point in learning about mosaics because the majority of historical examples are religious in theme. I'm not too steeped in religion so it was a natural inclination to do things in the greater secular pool and I started doing a lot of slice-of-life scenes. In refining the process even more, I was able to nail down portrait likenesses very precisely. That's the way I did this larger Lower Merion mosaic. Each section was drawn out and mapped out in advance and I blew up the panel and transposed it onto the panel and templated each piece. The rendering of the old school building, I knocked loose brick from the old building and I sliced that down and used that break to create the rendering of the school with the idea that once the old building is torn down, people will be able to touch it. I've done things where there's interactive qualities. It's all about trying to tailor-make the design so that it best fits the institution or purpose of what you're designing. With the Kobe piece, the purpose was to capture his essence as a young athlete. With Lower Merion, the purpose was to capture the 100-year history of the school.

On why mosaics appeal to him as an art form: The beautiful thing about mosaics and what attracted me is I like to think of these wall panels as being tactile paintings. At the Constitution Center, they get 2[,000] to 3,000 kids a day going through there touching and handling the piece or at the Phillies ballpark. The fact that people can touch the artwork to me is something special. There's no barrier where you have a glass or have to stand a distance from it. You can literally handle it. ... It creates an added level of intimacy where they can gauge the artwork that way and connect with it.

-- Mark Medina

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Photos: Jonathan Mandell has constructed various mosaics, including ones depicting, from top, Kobe Bryant, Lower Merion High School and Wilt Chamberlain. Credit: Jonathan Mandell

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Hey MM !

How are you doin? Good holiday for ya ? I have a request. No offense to Dan and Austin , they do a great job in your absence, but could you please not go on a vacation ? :)


I meant, never again. Btw, does the website have scalability issues ? It sometimes takes forever to load in the fastest browser I have.


Hey Larry, if you read this...

Wishing Merry Christmas and Happy New Year bro...

to you and your family.

Go Kings!


I love Kobe's mosaic. It's very dynamic. Jonathan Mandell has created a great image of Kobe's years in Lower Merion.

MM - welcome back...Nice to know the blog police is on patrol again...

Big week upon us...Our team is back home...and biggest game of the year on XMas...

I got a power meeting I'm all decked out looking

Which is my entry for today...

Lakers Dynasty - The Next Generation...

#17 Coming Up!!!

regarding this weekend's posts:

The Magic trades have difinately lifted them back to the top of the east. They still are lacking the defensive players that Boston has. If Arenas and Turk can light it up from the outside on a consistant basis, then they will be scary in the playoffs.

The big question they face now is chemistry. Will all these new pieces fit, or will they only look like contenders on paper?

As for our team, I'm not too worried about Ron's drop on the offensive end. His shot will come back, but at the same time, he needs to stop bulldozing everyone on his way to the rack. I do like the fact that the rest of the guys are looking for him down low. I too would hate to see him wearing another teams uni.

The coaches better vote Lamar onto the Allstar Team. He is most deserving of this honor this year.

Barnes has been huge this year. His game fits PERFECTLY with the triangle, and our current personel. He moves without the ball, cuts to the open space when our bigs need help, plays tough as nails D, and gets a lot of offensive boards to keep posession. I think it's a no brainer to resign this guy, for whatever price his agent asks.

UPS has been a bit inconsistant this year, but I still give him a B+. His role is not to be a "go to guy," but rather to provide some energy on both ends of the floor. That being said, he definately has improved his stroke and decision making.

The BEAST is back! In limited minutes, Socks came up large in Toronto. I can't wait for him to be back into true playing shape.

... almost forgot, welcome back MM!

It got pretty crazy around these parts for a few days, hopefully those nuts have come down from the Christmas Crack and will refrain from blasting each other. If not, you know what to do.

Welcome back, MM. Hope you had a nice vacation.

I'm sure you'll enjoy scrolling through the madness that ensued while you were away. BREAKING NEWS: Ouchhhhhhhh turned over a new leaf. And then turned it back over again.

Go Lake Show!

Good morning all!!! Happy Monday!!!

Welcome Back MM!!!...we MISSED ya! Now get your butt back to work, pronto!!! there's plenty of cleaning up to do around here...tee hee ;)

MM is back but not Mamba24 and LakerTom. Don't know what happened during our vacation but it seemed they turned recluse to blog. Here is something I'd like to express being your fellow buddies for quite can't stop the blog nor let time stall during your absence. Don't take things seriously, for God's sake this is just a blog not your family or your baby. It is just a site to meet friends as well as detractors. Words will not kill you or could disable ur power of reasoning. Learn how to roll with punches, humor criticisms and meet change with change. I ask both of you to get back on the blog.

The mosaic on Kobe 33 is nice but not too realistic. He looks Kobe 24 w/ broad shoulders of a grown up man not the wild shooter & lanky Italian teenager.

MM -

I greatly enjoyed this article. It's always interesting for me to read about how sports influences other walks of life. While art and sports are closely coupled, I am happy to continue to read about artists and their interpretations of these types of phenomena. Seeing as lots of art mirrors what goes on in the natural world (Portraits, tryptich works of things like wars/battles or marketplaces), it's pretty neat to read how this particular artist interpreted one way to make their art tangible.


Yes indeed, well put.
Complaining about complainers strikes me as a bit ironic, better I think to just ignore or challenge someone if you disagree with what they write.
I agree with your view on the mosaic too. If we didn't know that was supposed to be Kobe I wouldn't know who it was.


Dont worry about Pompous Tom. He is at Kmart returning his Cliff Lee jersey and buying that top selling Mark Prior jersey.

Uh-uh, Edwin. Lines were crossed. In a very ugly way. Can't have peace until you reconcile the error first. And that's in THE BOOK!

MM - I just sent you an email.

I agree with utz on this one. Lines WERE crossed, and that can't be allowed.

Trolls are one thing, but personal attacks against a blogger and/or their family is going too far. The line in the sand must be drawn. Rules must not only be written up but enforced. With all the holy terror that MM can muster!

mclyne -

I'm glad you didn't have to find a new blog to go to. Thanks for sticking around. :-)

63 Footer -

I did forget about that category - the people who are just completely unsatisfied with EVERYTHING that the Lakers do. I wonder what good it does them to post on this blog...

Okay, here it is... enjoy

Hey Ouchhhhhhh!!!!!

Sorry man. I COULDĀ“T see every Lakers game. Here in Barcelona is not easy and I know you are a great Laker fan.

Art is a very subjective thing. When I look at Kobe's mural, I see the Mamba, especially in the eyes and mouth. It's the same look I've seen time and time again when Kobe drives the basket. I saw that look yesterday against Toronto when he blew by 3 Raptors on the baseline with a beautiful reverse layup. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Another thing that the mosaic conveys to me is the fulfillment of potential. The Kobe depicted as a high school phenom was one of many young men who had the talent and physical gifts to become special contributors in the world of sports. The Kobe whose high school named its gymnasium after him last week, is a manifestation of hard work and will and determination that turned potential into an all time great professional basketball player. Kobe is one of the few who turned his possibilities into the reality of achievement.

The journey is not complete. #33/#8/#24 isn't done by a long shot. He's still got a lot in store for the game he loves so much.

Okay I caught up on the comments and I've made a decision that I would say has been long overdue: ouchhhhhhhh is banned. Too many personal attacks, too many demeaning comments, all of which seemed to increase even more during my absence.

BTW, that mosaic of Wilt Chamberlain at Philly's Overbrook High School don't look nothing the Dipper to me! LOL!

MM: Is that real or have you been HANDLEJACKED?

utzworld - No my handle hasn't been jacked. I posted the recent comment

Also there is a new post with links...


Mark Medina,

Well done.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.


To LongTimeLakerFan

Hey bro, I have arguments, for example:

Pau is the best Laker big man all time: CHECK, b/c he can play C and PF with efficiency. He also can play Point Center position, also with accurate efficiency. He can play Shooting guard posititon with a decent mid range.

Magic Johnson won 5 rings? Check, but he never was "the guy" (Kareem was)

Kareem won 5 rings? Check, but he only still playing 1 position and only with a SUPERWEAPON (sky hook). His BBIQ was poor and everybody know he has a not easy personality.

Kobe won 5 rings? Check, but he never has been "the guy" (early Shaq was and now, Pau is)

Sorry my friend, but, yes, Pau is the Best Laker in the whole Lakers history.

Thanks for that ban, MM!

That guy almost single- handedly ruined this site for me.


thanks dude! I can feel the love through my keyboard( LOL-I hope that doesn't sound too weird).

Wow, your posts get funnier and funnier.

You said that Magic never was "the guy" on the Showtime teams? Wow, have you actually even watched any of those games? If you have, then you would have noticed Magic running almost every aspect of the offense. He was the coach on the floor. He grabbed boards, ran the fast break, and set up his mates for easy lay ins or dunks. Wihtout Magic's intelligence, skill set, court awareness, and unselfishness, the Lakers might have won ONE championship in the 80s.

Oh yeah, Magic played all 5 positions during the final game of the 1980 Finals to lead the team to the first of those 5 rings. He went for 42, 15, and 7.

Please do a little research next time.

As for Kobe, he was the closer for the 2000-2003 champions. Shaq posted big numbers, but could never be counted on in the final minutes due to his poor free throw shooting. Kobe and Shaq won those rings TOGETHER. They both needed each other. Without Kobe, the opposing team could double Shaq without getting burned.

Also, after all is said and done, Kobe will be in the discussion (and currently is) for the best player ever to play the game. As for Pau, he might be considered one of the top 10 power forwards to play in the NBA.

I can't even beleive I have to write these sentences on a Laker Blog. Are you sure you aren't a huge Boston fan just screwing with us? That would make more sense.


>>>Hey bro, I have arguments, for example

I don't care.


And from the East he returned, restoring order to the Lakers blog, a collective sigh of relief heard round the world.

Welcome back, Mark Medina. Speaking of bans, unfortunately for you, I declared a moratorium on time off for the Lakers blogger until July. It was heartily embraced by the brethren. Hah!

See you later this week. Enjoy the triumphant return, everyone.

It was interesting to hear this artist's explanation of the whole process of making the mosaics. He even chose a good reference photo, but seriously the drawing is very weak. It doesn't look like Kobe at all and the big dipper, wow thats even worse. The artist, Mandell, mentions that he chooses where to make the tile cuts, and he considers the grouting lines in the composition. Sure doesn't look like it. Except for a few lines in the face the tiling seems totally haphazard when it could have been cut in a way to show the muscularity. Also the picture could benefit from choosing at least two tones for the skin and the jersey so that way there could be a sense of shadow and form. The Kobe picture has a really ugly skin tone. As a professional artist, I have to say this is totally amateurish.

Thanks for the love on the story. I thought the art in this was tremendous. I'm not an expert on it so I appreciate that Jonathan took the time to explain the concept behind this work. It really is interesting to hear people from other fields explain their work because it makes you build even more of an appreciation for it

Not only a great tribute -- a great work of art too!

Kobe had a shaved head in High School, didn't wear anything on Elbow and always wore a T-Shirt under his Jersey. This thing is inaccurate.

It's Nice, but wrong.

Amit??? Amit Patel??? is that you??



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