Josh Kirsch comes from a very creative family. The Kirsch brothers, Jeremy, Jesse, and Josh, operated the Harlingen Haunted House in their parents’ basement for eight years, starting when they were just 13, 9 and 7, respectively. The first year, Josh’s job was to lie on the floor and look dead. Each year they added scarier features and raised money for charity, culminating in 1999.
After dealing with the darkness of Halloween for so many years, they next tackled the bright colors of the Christmas season. The brothers worked 12- to 14-hour days for more than a year to design and construct Crazy Christmas: A Walk-Through Holiday Adventure, for which they rented space in the King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the 2004 and 2005 Christmas seasons. Visitors to the attraction were led in groups through a series of elaborate theatrical sets—including a crazy toy factory, a journey through Santa Claus’ brain, and a walk in the clouds on Christmas Eve. The experience included live actors, upbeat music, and dazzling special effects.
The photo above is part of the “Good and Happy Land” set of Crazy Christmas. The brothers originally visualized an LED display with moving clouds, sun, and rainbow. However, complexity, expense, and time limitations made that idea impossible. However, Jeremy came up with the idea of creating structures studded with sequins to get that shimmering, walking-through-a-video-game effect. Remember this. We’ll come back to this concept later.
Both Josh and his brother Jesse attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Brother Jeremy studied film making at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
What put Josh on my creative radar is his kinetic piece, Sympathetic Resonance, which combines sight, sound, and electronics. It is comprised of 56 individually tuned wooden marimba bars, each mounted on its own stand equipped with its own mallet arm, and each connected to a keyboard with wire. When a performer (or viewer) presses a key on the keyboard, it triggers the appropriate mallet to strike the corresponding bar, producing that characteristic marimba tone. When a skilled keyboardist plays a complex piece, not only do you hear the beautiful music, but you see a flurry of activity as the mallets activate and the supports sway.
I recently had an opportunity to interview Josh, and I asked him how he knew what to do electronically to bring his concept to life. Despite taking a class at SVA called “Electronics for Artists,” he didn’t really learn anything that helped with this project. A teaching assistant at the school gave him some design ideas, but his breakthrough happened when he discovered a part called a “rotary solenoid,” which enabled the mallets to hit the bars with just the right impact. Mostly, he just tried different things until he discovered something that worked.
Oculus is another example of Josh’s interactive kinetic art, which predates Sympathetic Resonance by a few years. It’s the first piece he designed on computer to some degree, rather than “growing organically” through trial and error. It combines mechanics and metal. Manipulating an attached handle changes the configuration of hinged arms radiating from the circular center of the sculpture, creating different geometric designs.
Josh’s Concentricity series contains three more pieces of kinetic art, adding the element of light. Concentricity 80 was Josh’s first sculpture, made during his sophomore year of college. It was also his first use of aluminum, and the first time he used electricity in an artwork.
Two other sculptures in this series, Concentricity 19 and Concentricity 96, can be viewed on Josh’s website, along with other examples of his work.
Josh’s other job is as a designer at SparkleMasters, a Glendale, California company he co-owns with his brother Jeremy. They create photographic sequin imagery. (Remember that picture of “Good and Happy Land” above?) Here is an example of Jeremy at work on a portrait.
Wow, right? SparkleMasters has refined the process by inputting their image or logo into Adobe Photoshop, which pixelates it in the proper resolution for the finished size and color matches it to their sequins. Then they print out “guides” for the work and distribute them to their local workforce of 20 sequiners, who work at home pinning sequins to 6 x 6 inch squares, which are finally assembled into the finished product. SparkleMasters have made displays for Aéropostale, Christian Dior, The Disney Store, L’Oréal Paris, Marc Jacobs, Turner Broadcasting, Universal Studios, Urban Decay, and others. Visit the SparkleMasters website to see more.
Josh credits his parents with being a huge influence on his creative life. His mother, Debbie, an early education specialist, is an avid crafter who loves creating things with her hands. His father, a computer systems consultant, shared his love of technology. But their biggest contribution was their “unwavering support” of their sons’ artistic experimentation, from sacrificing space in their home to contributing financing of their boyhood extravaganzas.
When I asked Josh what was next on the artistic front, he confided that many of his ideas are complex and expensive to build. However, he and his fiancée are interested in fabricating with neon, which promises to be a more manageable medium. He has ideas for chandeliers in various polyhedron shapes.
I have focused heavily on Joshua Kirsch in this article and also referred to his brother Jeremy’s work, but the third Kirsch brother (second by birth order), Jesse, is also a professional artist. A graphic designer, he works in Maryland, where he lives with his wife and their son. See his wonderful designs (for products you may use or have seen) on Jesse’s website.
What innovative directions in visual arts excite you? Can you share a link to your own work, or to an artist whom you admire? Reply in the comments below.