Jonathan Stein: The King of Bling
A sparkling social conscience from a passionate visual storyteller and conceptual artist.
A bright, middle child yearning for his voice in the world gently pushed colorful foods around on his dinner plate in lieu of eating them. The shapes began to resemble art, in a way. Abstract it may have been, but it was also art. These food paintings were the first art pieces ever made by Jonathan Stein and a precursor to the food art he would become famous for on several continents.
Big Apple Beginnings
Stein grew up in the Bronx, New York with creativity and kindness coursing through his veins. Always seeking an outlet for this creativity, he began experimenting with the aforementioned food art as well as food mosaics and sketching in grade school. His talents would come in handy pacifying the odd playground bully, who opted to see Stein’s personalized sketch of their visage instead of pummeling him.
Perhaps it was these rough encounters that inspired young Stein to teach art to the underserved and overlooked while still in middle school. At a very young age, he offered his time and talents to autistic and severely disabled kids. He continued this labor of love through his high school years. These mindful experiences solidified two things that would define his life: a dedication to outreach and the value of art for social awareness.
Master of All Mediums
Stein went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Boston University, minoring in photography and art history. He diligently applied every creative impulse bubbling inside him since childhood, learning a variety of art disciplines including sculpture, painting, drawing, photography, and video installation. During one of his photography classes he conceptualized the art pieces that would eventually lead to exhibitions all over the world.
Things with Bling
Channeling a bit of Warhol, Stein tackled an assignment on food photography in a way all his own. Watching his peers do ordinary product setups in their light boxes, he knew he wanted to kick it up a notch; or maybe 100. And so, he did. Stein created a playful homage to iconic food packaging; the brands beloved by all, with glue and several thousand sequins applied by hand. He posed these shimmering goods in opulent settings as a tongue-in-cheek nod to Americana. Also on the menu was a side order commentary about our collective overindulgence. The King of Bling was born.
Let it Shine
The popularity and surprise of this piece inspired Stein to expand on both the concept and the message. He walked supermarket aisles looking at packaging, choosing brands that were embedded in our consciousness and wildly colorful. These got the full bling treatment turned up to eleven. Stein labored for 10 to 12 hours at a time, applying thousands of Swarovski crystals to resin copies of Ritz Crackers, Cheese Whiz, Meyer Bologna, Spam, Lifesavers and Twinkies. Each piece was so labor-intensive they took months to finish, working on only two at any given time.
“My two favorite pieces to date are my Alot-of-Spam and my Midlife Crisis (Lifesavers) pieces. I love the overall color palette of both works; they are bright, cheery, and stop people most in their tracks,” says Stein in an interview with worshipthebrand.com. “They look simple to fashion, but the months of development to make them come to life was exhausting and impressive.”
He named this new art collection The Sparkly Goes Down Easy and it debuted in 2006 at the Art Basel Gallery in Miami, a place that would eventually have a permanent Stein display. The pieces were a glittering success with art lovers. Stein remembers gallery visitors viewing a Picasso in the area adjacent to his, but his own work was the one being photographed.
The World is Your Diamond
The exceptional parody was a sought-after collection, taking Stein to galleries in Europe, South America and all over the United States. The popularity of these modern pop art pieces demanded encores. So, Stein created more and more pieces, challenging himself with each construction. He created oversized and even bigger than life sized art pieces, including a Toblerone Chocolate Bar standing 3 feet tall.
Some pieces needed to be flat-out engineered they were so complex. Once constructed, the countless hours of “blinging” would begin. Tens of thousands of miniature crystals were applied by Stein’s own hand. The result was extraordinary and made Jonathan Stein – The King of Bling, a sparkling star in his own right.
Message in the Magnificence
Although Stein loves his pieces as much as his fans, especially the way they bounce light in a million directions, he stresses the underlying meaning of the series. Americans tend to want the shiny new thing, more and more of it, then all of it. If it glitters, we become insatiable. Overindulgence can be a bad thing, even if it’s indulgence of something universally beloved. These messages continued in a later collection of sparkly cakes emblazoned with the faces of celebrities. Each piece had a bite taken out; symbolizing our unhealthy obsession with stars and coveting what we believe are their glamorous lives. The stars in turn have a “bite” taken from them. The message being that fame may have its own painful price.
And Now for Something Kind
With the success of his creations under his belt, Stein wanted to use his name recognition. Not for himself; for the forgotten people on the fringes. He used his networking skills to bring companies and celebrities together for the causes dear to his heart. He began by reconnecting with those suffering from developmental disabilities and worked to get both funding and attention to their plight. Celebrities like Katy Perry joined him in projects for the most marginalized in society, and companies like Gibson Guitars, Office Depot, NASCAR, and Remy Martin followed suit.
Sometimes More Really is More
His penchant for kindness not sated, Stein joined Drops of Hope, Inc., a non-profit in South Florida, as Director of Creativity. Here his talents are loosed turning the stark hospital rooms of child cancer patients into a wonderland, bringing needed distraction from their traumatic circumstances. The King of Bling may have thousands of sparkling jewels in his studio, but his biggest jewel is a magnificent heart. Learn more about Stein and his dazzling art at jonathan-stein.com.