I had seen the videos that the ICA has on line such as Pinocchio Is On Fire and the brief Art 21 clip called "Paper." Bradford says that when he first began making art, he only knew of materials that came from Home Depot. His attitude is that anything and everything can be used in making his work and one of his main sources has been posters found in the Los Angeles neighborhood where his studio is located.
He has developed an unusual method of layering the found posters with caulk or string over the letters, then gluing on layers of paper on top and sanding, tearing or cutting down through the layers until some of the underneath text is exposed.
|Here is a closeup image from Joanne Mattera's blog showing letters and numbers exposed after layering|
There are some works like this in the ICA show, especially a huge wall of posters with silvery paint advertising PROPANE FOR FEMA TRAILERS. You can guess where those were from; Bradford was in the New Orleans Biennial in 2008 and did several large works for it.
But most of the 45 works in the ICA show are massive map-like works of billboard paper on paper or canvas that really have to be seen in person to be appreciated as the massive undertakings that they are. Apparently they are based on Google maps of particular areas of Los Angeles. (Let me just make a disclaimer that most of the images in this post do not do Bradford's works justice. As readers of this blog may remember, the ICA does not allow photography so I was only able to get images from the Wexner site. But if you watch the videos linked above, you can get a better sense of what the works are like. Also, I was unable to get images online of many of the works in the show, especially my favorite, Black Venus.)
In person 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.
|Scorched Earth, 2006, 94 1/2 x 118 inches|
The map works and the massive poster pieces were spectacular, but my favorites were made using two other methods. Strawberry is one of the earlier works in the show and uses the permanent wave end papers that Bradford began making his works with initially. His mother used to run a beauty shop in the building that he eventually bought for his studio. Bradford helped out his mother in the shop and bought the papers for his work because they were so cheap. He would torch the edges of a stack of papers to get a contrasting edge. I really liked the way he made the bright red and orange areas retreat in this work using the delicate-looking white tissues.
|Strawberry, 2002, 72 x 84 inches|
|Smokey, 2003, 60 x 72 inches|
Smokey is another work using the end papers that I really loved. The subtle bends in the horizontal lines and the darker colors that come in at the bottom are very beautiful.
Another of Bradford's techniques is to glue down rope on billboard and/or poster paper and then layer over it with more paper. He strips off layers and/or glues down more found paper in contrasting colors.
|Potable Water, 2005, 130 x 196 inches|
The works with horizontals are my favorites. I think my absolute favorite work in the show was Grey Gardens, below.
|Grey Gardens, 2010, 60 x 72 inches|
This piece is actually a soft grey and much paler overall with less contrast than in this image. There is an area of scattered stick pieces on the left side just above the middle that look pink here but actually stand out as the whitest part of the piece in person.
I'm glad that I was able to get in to Boston to see this show (that will be in Boston until March 13th). It was inspiring to see work by someone who has invented ways to manipulate found media and make it his own. What I particularly admire about Bradford's work is the way he has subordinated the found media to his larger intention. By that I mean that he is not timid about destroying or vastly altering the found media. At the same time, while the media has lost its singularity and become part of the greater whole, there are still glimpses of some of the unique, found components. It is a balancing act that I strive for in my own work.
I feel a real kinship with Mark Bradford because of his mix of media, and as I was taking a snow day today to catch up on my reading and television watching, I seemed to see reminders everywhere I looked that media is being chewed up and spit out in new configurations - for example:
I have a new (to me) cable channel called Ovation that features programming on the arts. Tonight I watched a program on the artist Ron English, apparently made a few years back when he was actively co-opting billboards with posters that slyly mimicked real ads. Most of his subverted billboards targeted advertising aimed at children. His campaign against the Joe Camel figure contributed to its notoriety and downfall, and he has also become well known for his anti-McDonalds supersized figure.
I was out here in the boonies of western Mass. when he pasted up his giant wall of Lincoln/Obamas in Boston's South End in 2008 so I missed the controversy about all the other posters being pasted up in his wake by wanna-bes and wheat paster amateurs.
|That's Ron at the right of the picture.|
This guy is a really good draftsman and very capable realist painter with an excellent sense of ironic humor. It's too bad he had to stop taking over billboards due to the threat of arrest because he had some very good ones. I can't resist posting a few:
Aural Mix o'Media
The Ron English program came on the heels of two other articles I read this afternoon in the Sunday Times magazine from a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I know - by the time all this stuff gets into the popular culture, it's already old news. And, by the time it gets to me, it's probably ovah already. But just to remind you...
First, Greg Gillis a/k/a Girl Talk who mashes up music samples from "50 years of the revolving trends of pop music." Here's a MySpace link so you can see what his high-energy sound is like. Then, what should I see on the Ovation channel but a show about copyright violations because of sampling and how music publishers are fighting the mash up trend. This is an old story and a losing battle.
Forever After Mix o'Media
The second story about media that I noted in the Times was about the lingering virtual presence you will still have after you are long gone. Your email, all those Likes on Facebook, the inane tweets, the Flickr pictures from the summer barbecues, the vacations at the beach, the dogs, the cats, the snowstorms, the garden, your daily iPhone pix, the graduation, the wedding, the new grandchild, the Christmas tree, the blog post about media - all, all, all left behind after you go on to your reward. But, not to worry, the article tells about a new growth industry of people who will take care of it all for you. Just as you may go Up or Down after you die (in theory), you may choose to live on forever with a service such as that provided by VirtualEternity.com or end it all with DeathSwitch.com. The choice is yours but one you must make while you can still surf in real time.