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Alumnus Surprises With Use of Six-Millimeter “Pixels”

Posted May 19, 2010 in AlumniPublic

For some, Airsoft BBs are a requirement for target practice or other sports. For Kendall alumnus John O’Hearn, ('06 Sculpture and Functional Art) they are thousands of tiny pixels that synthesize to form a remarkable work of art.

O’Hearn is the brainchild behind Ball Mosaics, a company that sells 3D mosaics in the pointillist tradition made from the 6-millimeter plastic balls. Each mosaic is created from more than 46,000 balls in just five colors. The balls are dropped into clear, hard, plastic tubes, which are then laid side by side in a large frame that holds them in place. To date, O’Hearn has created 10 of the 4' x 6' pieces, which sell for $5,000.

In December, an action shot of Denver Bronco‘s quarterback Tim Tebow was purchased by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and exhibited at it’s Orlando museum before heading to it’s permanent collection in St. Augustine, FL. Adding to their collection, Ripley’s commissioned a 4' x 8' mosaic of entertainer Lady Gaga in May. O’Hearn will also exhibit at Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City, MI starting July 1.

O’Hearn spent five years perfecting the process for his mosaics. At first, he worked the balls into the plastic tubes one at a time by hand. Just one piece took more than a month to complete.

Last year, he spent six months creating a machine and compatible computer program that feeds the balls into the tubes, which speeds up the process. He must monitor the color pattern for each tube and ensure the balls are loading properly, so the work is still very hands-on. O’Hearn puts about 100 hours into his standard-size pieces.

O’Hearn‘s work at Kendall was kinetic in nature, and he has spent his recent years innovating ways to combine robotics and kinetics into surprising and engaging works of art. He enjoys audience reactions to the pieces, especially when they realize that they‘re looking at a three-dimensional image. “It looks 2D, but when people get up close, they love that little surprise,” he says. People are often in disbelief that the images are only composed of five colors. “Audiences of all ages enjoy them, which is hard to do with art. They’re wholesome but memorable.”