Mark Bradford’s artwork represents a new type of ‘painting’, except he doesn’t paint on it, but uses found, vernacular material from the streets that he glues onto the canvas forming a pattern and then proceeds to rip, tear, scrub, paint over it; this collage/decollage process introduces a layer of abstraction into the vernacular material which are typically signs that depict the current state of our existence. From advertisements for jobs to sneakers, call-girls to legal services, the vernacular that is displayed ‘subliminally’ speaks to the underlying issues he chooses to address.
Incidently this process was derived from his time working at his mothers hair salon before and even after graduation from art school; of using pieces of paper to wrap people’s hair, soaking them with color, heating, splicing them and working out mistakes on-the-fly, was a period of soul searching and fundamental to the development of his artistic technique.
The earlier period works (2000-2004) seem to focus on abstraction by freezing time, a linear ana-cubic world view reminiscent of the pioneering time lapse photography studies that were done in the late 19th century to analyze motion and pave the way for the birth of cinematography. Yet an element of parody is still incorporated, as seen in Enter And Exit The New Negro (2000) which consists of lines of transparent square outlines against an all white background; which seems to suggest the black male in the new millenium is trying so hard to be white, that he’s become lost, irrelevant.
Later works seem to be fixated on maps and using the image of a map to represent an issue or even a scene. The question is why use maps to represent something? Certainly the issue of place and community is evident, but these aren’t real maps; they are fictitious maps of American looking cities. Which means they could apply to any city.
In Orbit (2007), a lone cut-out of a basketball is placed in this city that is all dark, with the outskirts all white, except for the areas that the basketball seems to have flown over, which are lit-up, seems to be a microcosm of how the inhabitants of central Los Angeles view their city and their basketball team.
Giant (2007) and Monster (2009) are both giant sprawling mega-cities, while Giant is segregated, presumably racially, into different colors for different zones, Monster is just a swirling white mass, I’m guessing about new, grand, urban design schemes and how they obliterate the past and force people to live a certain, arbitrary way.
The Amendment series of paintings, recite the amendments to the US Constitution known as the Bill of Rights, rights that guarantee certain freedoms for each citizen, each one being subjected to the same de-collage process of ripping, tearing and obscuring to the point that they are almost illegible, and thus ultimately irrelevant. However, does Amendment#2 (2013) mean the second amendment, the right to bear arms, is in the process of being, nullified, rendered irrelevant, and thus people are losing their right to bear arms, or does it mean people have abused this right, and so this amendment is losing relevance? The answer is ambiguous.
The ‘Scorched Earth’ exhibition last year, which depicted the effects of AIDS epidemic on Bradford’s communities, with the map imagery transformed to represent images of AIDS infected cells, but Dead Hummingbird (2015) seems to add another dimension, another looming epidemic to the mix; that of global warming, and its devastating effects on wildlife.
Since 2010 Mark Bradford seems to be trying different processes for different looks; in Grey Gardens (2010), the map imagery is replaced by a linear fragmented look. Harking back to the earlier linear visual fragmentation imagery, the scene of a garden has been sliced into horizontal segments and pieced back together in an orderly but simultaneously disorderly way.
Fuhgitfulness (2012) a baby-blue mass depicting the blank, blissful state of forgetfulness, also replaces the map imagery with an all-over effect, curiously reminiscent, in an abstract way, of Jackson Pollock’s One Number 31 (1950).
Although Bradford has said time and again of his desire, need of breaking free from art history, from the modern masters, who have ‘done it all’, one cannot help but draw similarities of having an all-over effect, allowing the painting to seem to go on and on, a proprietary, unconventional technique, and just as Pollock was asked how he knew when to stop painting, this same question was posed to Bradford.
So is Bradford the new Pollock? He might, depending on what he does from now on, but the stars are definitely aligning that way, from recent multi-million dollar transactions for his paintings, to being anointed to do the US Pavilion for the upcoming Venice Biennale next year.