Greg Cook interviews painter Mark Bradford on the occasion of his recent exhibition Sea Monsters at the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.
Bradford comments: "I started thinking about explorers. In these 16th and 17th century maps, that were basically these guys were bringing sexy cash and buying houses, buying land. That’s when I really started seeing that exploitation on a global level, on a micro and on a macro level, is just still going on. Somehow I connected 16th and 17th century trade routes and ‘Sexy Cash.’ ... we always have this thing about making the other dangerous. So I started reading these books. I read this book on sea monsters. The 16th and 17th century maps, they didn’t understand the ocean, so it was a deep, dark, mysterious place. In these books of these sea monsters, they were half dolphins and half walruses. They had names for them. They had categories. I just became so fascinated by this... What they didn’t understand, they made terrifying. Although they needed these routes to exploit, they also started putting in, like, ‘Well, be careful of these waters because they’re full of sea monsters.’ But a lot of it was actually just a marketing strategy by the mapmakers to discourage other explorers from taking those routes... So my mind just kind of collapsed ‘Sexy Cash’ and sea monsters and otherness and South Central [Los Angeles] as being full of sea monsters. And Ferguson, I guess, now is full of sea monsters. Anything that we don’t understand. And that’s where it came from—sea monsters.”
White writes that Bradford employs "a creative practice that, while not necessarily innovative, he has made his own, both technically and conceptually. Collage’s history is short but intense, and Bradford’s use of found materials such as posters and newsprint has its origins in Cubism: in the early 1910s, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris had likewise used found matter to play around with language and space, often with implied political and social commentary built in. At the same time, Bradford’s works in this show are reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media pieces, made in the 1950s and 60s, that incorporated signage, billboards and other metropolitan detritus into fine art to indicate that the best way to represent urban experience is to make work from its material manifestations...They set themselves aside from their precedents in the history of collage by virtue of their scale and of their combination of an additive and subtractive technique."
Michno writes: "Bradford's interest in power structures, emergent when he was at CalArts, has continued to inform his painting, and how he conceptualizes his work. He has always been fascinated by the purity that is attributed to paint and that collage is considered lower than painting in the spectrum of media. "I was building a political framework in my head of how I wanted to engage, and what materials could push that. That is why I demand that they're called paintings," he says about his large-scale paper-on-canvas works. 'That is why people get unfurled when I call them paintings. That is why the purists stand up and say, 'There is no paint.' ' Bradford also notes the lack of African-American men and the lack of women throughout the history of painting. Finally, he points to the question of space. 'Certain white men are allowed to be size-queens; they have big paintings, they can take up big spaces. It was about who was allowed to take up space, and who was allowed to not take up space. So I think for me, all this framework came out of being at CalArts and observing ideological frameworks and my relationship to them.' "
Max Weintraub reviews the exhibition Mark Bradford at Sikkema Jenkins Co., New York, on view through December 22, 2012.
Weintraub writes that "Mark Bradford’s monumental new work, currently on view at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York, continues the artist’s almost single-handed revival of contemporary abstraction from its doldrums, and affirms to my mind that progressive abstract painting indeed still has much to offer. ... As he translates the rhythms of the urban landscape into increasingly abstract terms, without ever fully abandoning a figurative impulse, Bradford deftly operates at the intersection of abstraction and representation like few before him. His spectacular frenzies of color and form become visual analogues of the very urban landscape from which he scavenged his materials—poetic visual kaleidoscopes of the communities and underground economies to which Bradford’s inherently referential source material gestures, and the volatile emotional admixture of desires, concerns and vitality that make up the complex socio-economic layers of Bradford’s worlds."
Thomas Micchelli blogs about the paintings of Mark Bradford, on view at Sikkema Jenkins & Co, New York through December 22, 2012.
Driven to see the exhibition by a suggestion in the New York Times that Bradford may be "the best painter working in America today," Micchelli concludes that "credible case can be made" for the assertion. In Bradford's paintings, Micchelli writes, the "surfaces - accreted through improvisation and accident – are dense with the authority of their own thing-ness, resolving themselves around the colors, textures and shapes inherent in their materials... Beyond their formal inventiveness, there is another, more speculative reason why Bradford’s work has yet to get old. Curiously, it is not dissimilar to the way Mantegna would paint a Tuscan village in the hills rising behind the Crucifixion. By abstracting the stuff of everyday life - rather than treating as an object of irony or ridicule - Bradford is in a very real sense exalting it. Like Mantegna, he is folding his own time into a sacred space."
Perl writes that the press materials refer to "abstraction as 'a painting tradition that was once seen as essentially reductive' and 'monolithic and doctrinaire' - but has 'now become expansive.' In what sense were seminal abstract artists such as Kandinsky or de Kooning ever reductive? And what is more reductive than Warhol’s silly attempt at an all-over abstract painting included in this show, the bewilderingly boring 35-foot expanse of army surplus patterning entitled Camouflage? ...There is nothing in this show - neither the labyrinthine spatial visions of Julie Mehretu nor the impacted collage surfaces of Mark Bradford - that doesn’t have its origins in abstract painting long before Warhol got to work with his silkscreens."
Nancy Natale visits the Mark Bradford exhibition at the ICA Boston. Natale discusses the materials and techniques Bradford employs: "... the works have a very strong physical presence, not only because of their enormous size but because of the thick layers of paper, the rough surface, their usually tattered bottom edges and the sense of impermanence from the ephemeral nature of their components."
Deborah Barlow looks at Mark Bradford's exhibition at the ICA in Boston. Bradford's work can be seen through "many lenses—political, sociological, race-based, gender, abstraction, counter trends, arte povera, inner city aesthetics... maybe this is a show that needs several viewings to appreciate the density of meaning and form that Bradford is pursuing."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.