Studio visit: Jonathan Prince

As the New York-born, Massachusetts-based sculptor’s private selling exhibition opens at Christie’s Sculpture Garden on Madison Avenue, he explains how his work reflects ‘the duality of perfection versus chaos’

‘Sculptural works sometimes present more questions than there are answers,’ muses Jonathan Prince. We are at the sculptor’s impressive HQ in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, some 90 minutes north of New York City. ‘I've been up here for the last 15 years,’ he explains.

On making the move from his native New York, Prince admits he initially felt quite isolated, but his feelings have changed over time. ‘I've really come to know that this work couldn’t be created anywhere else except surrounded by nature,’ he says. ‘It’s the quiet beauty that really informs the work.’

Prince graduated with a doctorate degree from Columbia University, and received a post-doctorate degree from the University of Southern California. He holds patents in optics and worked with NASA on its Hologlobe Project at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

From left Jonathan Prince (b. 1952), Shatter I, 2018-2019. CorTen and mirror-polished marine-grade stainless steel. 86 x 46 x 46 in (218 x 117 x 117 cm). Shatter II, 2018-2019. CorTen and mirror-polished marine-grade stainless steel. 88 x 46 x 46 in (224 x 117 x 117 cm). On view until 10 November 2019 at Christie’s Sculpture Garden, 535 Madison Avenue, New York

From left: Jonathan Prince (b. 1952), Shatter I, 2018-2019. CorTen and mirror-polished marine-grade stainless steel. 86 x 46 x 46 in (218 x 117 x 117 cm). Shatter II, 2018-2019. CorTen and mirror-polished marine-grade stainless steel. 88 x 46 x 46 in (224 x 117 x 117 cm). On view until 10 November 2019 at Christie’s Sculpture Garden, 535 Madison Avenue, New York

His interest in optics is evident in his work. ‘I like to look at the fluidity of light rather than the fluidity of matter,’ he explains. ‘The matter itself is standing still but the light is never still. When we polish a piece of stainless steel, we are not polishing it just to shine. We are pushing the limits of what the human hand can do.’

Drawing upon his extensive knowledge of nature, science and the human body, Prince creates monumental and large-scale works of art out of materials such as stainless steel, CorTen steel, aluminium, bronze and granite.

‘We strive for perfection, but in my work I like to show that the really beautiful portions of the sculptures are the breaks and the tears’ — Jonathan Prince

His pieces feature in notable public and private collections, including The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and The Joseph M. Cohen Family Collection, and has been shown across the United States. In 2012, sculptures rendered in CorTen and stainless steel from his ‘Liquid State’ series were exhibited at Christie’s Sculpture Garden in New York.

‘There’s this duality that I’m looking at, and this duality of perfection versus chaos,’ explains the artist, who cites modernist sculptors such as Isamu Nogochi and Jean Arp among his influences. ‘As humans we strive for perfection, but in my work I like to show that the really beautiful portions of the sculptures are the breaks and the tears and the shatters. It’s a fantastic metaphor for life.’

Jonathan Prince (b. 1952), Contemplation I, 2018-2019. Mirror-polished marine-grade stainless steel  transparent urethane colour. 54.5 x 32 x 5 in (138 x 81 x 13 cm). On view until 10 November 2019 at Christie’s Sculpture Garden, 535 Madison Avenue, New York
Jonathan Prince (b. 1952), Contemplation I, 2018-2019. Mirror-polished marine-grade stainless steel / transparent urethane colour. 54.5 x 32 x 5 in (138 x 81 x 13 cm). On view until 10 November 2019 at Christie’s Sculpture Garden, 535 Madison Avenue, New York

The technology that informs the creation of Prince’s works is, he reveals, an important part of his practice. He talks of ‘pushing the boundaries of what my will is versus the material that I work against’. The process, he says, is about ‘listening and being informed by the material, rather than just trying to say it’s going to bend to my will.’

Sign up today

Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week

Subscribe

One of the pieces from Prince’s ‘Shatter’ series, which will be shown in Christie’s Sculpture Garden (535 Madison Avenue, New York) until 10 November, has over 450 individual elements of stainless steel, all compound curves that have been individually welded together.

‘Are we simulating nature?’ asks the artist. ‘Absolutely. At different times we try to, but at the same time it's our hand that’s creating this vision of what things might look like.’