Not only are Mark Bradford’s typical works monumental in vertical and horizontal scale, they are also layered, built-up thick, oozing a palpable density.
These layers can be pages from old comic books, newspaper prints, all glued down and up with shellac.
Mark Bradford then works on taking his paper strata from collage to decollage.
Scared, gouged, cut, perforated, sliced, scraped, raked, it seems obvious that with texture comes material physicality but Mark Bradford still takes this to a different level.
With straight or sinuous lines, he uncovers paths, winding roads or rivulets to eventually give us entire urban landscapes.
His collage and decollage erode his paint layers, fashioning a new art, a material geology built off his sedimentary layers of paper. He reveals a detail here, a splash of color there, all rooted in the raw energy of his social commentary on our society.
“Politically and socially, we are at the edge of another precipice. I’m standing in the middle of a question about where we are as a nation.” – Mark Bradford
His recently installed mural at LACMA is a loaded one, and deserving of a bit of background for the non-US crowd.
Can you read “please”, “please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this”, “don’t tell me that he’s gone”?
Those are all words, very polite and respectful words, uttered in July 2016 by Diamond Reynolds while she live-streamed her boyfriend Philando Castile being pulled over by a cop. The scene unfolds as the cop fatally shot Castile in his car, despite his following all orders. Four shots. In front of her and their toddler daughter.
The cop was later found non-guilty.
The title for this mural is “150 Portrait Tone”, otherwise none as color code for the pink or flesh color seen throughout the painting but which, obviously, would not apply to paint Philando Castile’s skin color.
Meanwhile in Washington, DC, at the Hirshhorn, Bradford took colored papers and reproductions of the French artist Paul Philippoteaux’s nineteenth-century cyclorama depicting Pickett’s Charge. As the final charge of the Battle of Gettysburg, this is believed to have been the critical turning point of the Civil War and, as such, of American history. Bradford’s reinterpretation is a 400-feet long circular abstract paintings of historic layers.
I encourage you to watch how he “paints with paper” in this short video.
His latest works at Hauser & Wirth are smaller in scale but just as powerful and irradiating energy concentrated on a canvas that can actually fit a home rather than a museum.
In a way, Mark Bradford is an artivist: he takes what society keeps throwing at all of us, and he tries to make sense of it. Layering interpretation, tearing and peeling off until some rational solution peeks through. Or is it until abstraction seems the only way out?
By layering paper news we hardly read anymore, the material density reveals how drowning the thick background noise can be. Then come Mark Bradford’s incisions: some are small window cuts, others more like threads and inroads into finding what matters, what cannot be buried or abstracted by growing fatigue or disinterest.
Bradford refers to his work as “social abstraction”—abstract art “with a social or political context clinging to the edges”.
That is the jolt, the energy that shakes you into reading his works like maps or grids, attempting to straighten what’s clearly gone twisted.
No wonder Mark Bradford declares having been heavily influenced by the writings of Rosalind Krauss on grids. Even though the accumulative effect of his collages can sometimes feel oppressing, there is always visual structure, almost a kind of natural architecture in Mark Bradford’s art.
It is this energy which speaks from miles away and always leaves me feeling stronger and resolute after viewing his art. After all, Reinventingrid and I have always been partial to grids: it is all in the name :-)…But that’s only my personal view, what about YOU: how does the art of Mark Bradford makes YOU feel? The Comment Box is all yours.
© 2018 Ingrid Westlake
All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.