“I’m elegant but I have this little rough edge.”
The Los Angeles South Central artist Mark Bradford makes what he calls paintings without using paint.
As he told Artslant’s Abraham Ritchie “I see them as paintings because I make it easy on myself, because they are on a stretcher bar. I’m not getting into whether that’s a collage, or . . . They’re on stretcher bars so they’re a painting for me…I’m very impatient and oil painting takes a long time to dry. It’s very toxic; it gives me a headache, so I knew I couldn’t use it. Acrylic paint, it doesn’t work for me. These endpapers were cheap, fifty cents a box, which was good getting out of school. So it organically led me to other materials. When I needed more end paper I’d walk out, find some street paper; the street paper has color so I'd have a color pattern now. Eventually I decided that because of the territory I was mining, paper made sense. I don’t know when, or at what point, but I just decided, ok I’m going to keep doing this.”
A mining that sees him use the everyday materials of black culture to create his modernist abstractions. Although best known for his two dimensional works there is a sculptural ethic that underpins his work.
As he explained “I started off as a sculptor, and before that I was a hairdresser. When you are doing hair you are always thinking about it in three dimensions. So that was very, very easy for me to do, to work three-dimensionally. I’m sure I translated that on some unconscious level when I started working two-dimensionally in regards to depth.”
Bradford’s major break came just four years after earning his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts when two of his works were included in the 2001 Studio Museum of Harlem’s Freestyle exhibition curated by the museum’s director Thelma Golden.
As Golden told the Los Angeles Times’ Ernest Hardy “When I saw Mark's paintings I was amazed by the very elegant but raw quality. They felt very emotional, very immediate. But also so beautifully considered.
About his inclusion in the exhibition Bradford has stated “I'm forever grateful to Miss Golden for getting me from behind that pressing comb."
Bradford’s current exhibition Matrix 172 is a 60foot wall drawing at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and is in show until the 6th of September.