Mark Bradford is an African-American artist that is currently working and living in Los Angeles, California. He is well-known for his modern abstract works that combine paint and collage. He is also a performance artist.
Bradford’s materials were often seen on the street. He transforms these scavenged materials into huge collages and installations, often the same size as one wall. More often, he does these artworks live with an audience which is now known as performance art.
The artist was also sent to the Venice Biennale to represent the United States last May 2017. On November of the same year, he opened his show in Washington D.C. at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; his December 2017 stint included an exhibit at Art Basel located in Miami Beach.
Mark Bradford Art Career
Before Bradford became a professional artist, he worked in his mother’s salon as a hairdresser. In fact, his previous career influenced some of his early works and it can be clearly observed. Back then, he used foil, dyes, and permanent-wave endpapers as the most prevalent material in his collages.
Ultimately, he was able to create different works of art with a growing list of scavenged materials. He widened his search and used even old peeling movie posters and even used plywoods he found on the street. These varying materials gave his work more depth and layer. Soon enough, his work transformed into a grid-like combination of paint and collage.
Bradford was able to break into the artistic stage during his inclusion on a 2001 seminal group show known as “Freestyle.” It was shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem. After that, he did several solo shows at different museums and spaces including the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston as well as the Whitney Museum of American Art.
His first ever survey exhibit was simply called “Mark Bradford.” With this exhibit, his work from 1997 to 2010 was showcased and it each piece from each year was able to tell his expertise in his work. Everything he created from paintings, sculptures, installations, and even videos were shown during this exhibit.
As a modern artist, he is never afraid of tackling societal issues and combining them into his work. One of the most common issues he often depicts is racism. There are also pieces about gender discrimination and inequality, as well as the different classes in American society. Although his work does have some political dimensions, they weren’t as explicit as a lot of artists and artworks. Most of the time, it’s about using materials that are connected to the issues he is talking about, such as immigration papers.
Mark Bradford Key Ideas
- Mark Bradford, with a unique technique and great attitude towards materials, began to think that anything could be used for his art. He started scavenging the streets near his home. With papers he found, he’d then layer a blank canvas 10 to 15 times. It would include any and almost every kind of paper he had found. He’d then fix each of the layers with clear shellac. From there, he would add layers of his scavenged material until he reaches a certain level of density and then he’d use his power tools to cut off pieces to expose the painting.
- Bradford’s style is modern abstract art. According to him, he hasn’t really touched a brush since he went to university. However, his work is still noted as an abstract painting. Abstract paintings and artwork are normally harder to comprehend at first sight. Unlike paintings wherein you can see the subject, most abstract works don’t have definite subjects. For Bradford, he’s able to achieve this style by using different mediums in his art such as paint and collages. Apart from being an abstract artist, he also dabbles in performance art. Normally, this is when there is a performance that comes with making or presenting the artwork.
- His themes revolve around society. There are artworks that were created to provoke people and let them think about the issues of the world. Bradford is not afraid of creating a point, especially when it comes to race, class, and gender. Sometimes, his themes might get political, but it’s more how he’s done the art and what he’s used rather than what the art actually is. Apart from politics and societal issues, he also likes to create artworks with the human mind and body as the central themes. For example, he made artworks that were based on AIDS cells under a microscope — but instead of focusing on the disease, he said that the painting was about the human body.
- Bradford uses mixed media, enabling him to create different concepts. He also works on paintings, sculptures, collages, and installations. Each one of these has their own different concept. Nonetheless, his concepts are closely tied to his experiences and what he sees every day. In part, some of his concepts were also deeply influenced and related to his past work as a hairdresser on his mother’s salon. One of his most significant works was an installation called “Help Us” was perhaps among the most poignant of his concepts. He dedicated it to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
- Most of Bradford’s works are bigger than the average artwork. For someone who’s just passing by, it might look like anything. It might be an incomprehensible work. However, art enthusiasts, especially fans of Mark Bradford himself, would often see the streets and the city in his artworks. To be more specific, these are the areas he grew up in and experienced firsthand – the predominantly Latino and black neighborhood in South Los Angeles. That being said, most of his artworks meant more to him than anyone else and that it’s a representation of his whole life as well as his career.
- Bradford’s work mostly revolved around his own life and experiences. It would show scenes or symbols for his neighborhood and his life. A lot of his notable works looked like an aerial map of a city and indeed it might be — one of South Los Angeles where he grew up and still currently lives in. When it comes to materials, he actually rarely uses paint and instead, rely on photographs, colored papers, and prints he can find on the screen to act as the “paint” and give color to his artworks. He also uses these as marks for establishments and buildings He also uses ropes and scraps of wood every so often. These often create the illusions of roads and connecting one area to another.
Mark Bradford comes from South Los Angeles, where he was born and raised. When he was 11, their mother decided that he and his sister should grow up in a better environment. That’s when they decided to move and live in a predominantly white neighborhood in Santa Monica.
Janice Banks, his mother, rented a space around Leimert Park and opened a beauty salon. It’s a predominantly black neighborhood. As a child, Bradford would often go from Santa Monica to Leimert as his mother still tended to the beauty salon even when they moved.
When he was in school, the lack of supervision in his local high-school coincided with his cutting of classes. His grades suffered. However, the young Bradford loved reading and it began when he picked up a science fiction book at the supermarket. He believed that reading became his spark plug for his imagination.
Reading was also his only solace when he became more of a man than a boy. He had a sudden growth spurt, reaching six feet tall — he believed his height made him act like an adult when those social difficulties arose. Because of his height, he also tried the basketball team but ended up quitting when the game became too physically aggressive for him. He was also often yelled at so he eventually just quit.
As he grew up, Bradford would sometimes help his mother at the salon. After graduating from high school, the artist acquired his own license for hairdressing so he can work full-time at his mother’s salon.
During the 1980s and in his 20s, Bradford went from Los Angeles to Europe for a bunch of different reasons but also to travel and to hit the dance clubs. When he reached 30 in 1991, he went to California Institute of Arts where he earned his BFA and soon, his MFA in 1997.
Mark Bradford Notable Artworks
Here are some of the most notable creations by Mark Bradford throughout his career:
“Ghost Money” is a mixed media collage on canvas that Bradford created in 2007. Today, it’s value is estimated at a whopping $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.
It’s an arranged map of the culture and experience in Bradford’s own home city of Los Angeles. He used several “real-world” materials that can be seen on the streets. Examples are billboard papers that have peeled off, newspaper clips, endpapers, posters, pamphlets, polyester cords, and more. Most often, these materials are used to give the artwork a deeper meaning.
The materials in “Ghost Money” were flyers that were often posted on telephone poles and bills that encourage people to get their loans for houses and cash. These were made for middle-class families all over LA. That being said, “Ghost Money” became an artwork that represented the “underbelly” economies that have embedded itself deep within social injustices.
This 2008 installation is now located at the Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art for the 2008 Carnegie International. It’s installed at the museum’s roof, in which an aerial view is the best way to view the installation in all its glory.
It’s painfully simple and yet extremely poignant, created by Bradford for the victims of Hurricane Katrina — one of the biggest and most destructive hurricanes to have landed in the USA.
Another masterpiece Bradford created in response to Hurricane Katrina was the “Mithra.” It was a giant installation that was installed in Lower Ninth Ward located at New Orleans. This was one of the poor areas in the city that were ravaged by the disaster.
“Mithra” was a 70-feet long ark that was created based on the biblical ark created by Noah to save his family and animals from the wrath of God. Bradford’s “Mithra” is made from discarded plywoods from a barricade fencing which was found at a local construction site.
They created the ark with these plywoods, but the foundation and the base within the ark were two shipping containers that were stacked on top of the other. There are also various weathered posters for TV shows, concerts, bands, and more that decorate the entire ark.
The whole project was done with the help of architect Eva Steele as well as a construction crew that was headed by Sam Clay.
A Truly Rich Man is One Whose Children Run Into His Arms When His Hands are Empty
This gigantic and dramatically named piece from 2008 is aptly named, just because it is another of Bradford’s more touching pieces. One look and you can already see its similarity to a city’s map, only in nighttime. But it also reminds you of the shattered pieces of glass windows in shops, homes, and other urban elements in a riot-filled night — of the charred and burned vehicles in the middle of a chaotic street.
The entire masterpiece is 9 feet tall and 9 feet wide. With a closer look, you can see every piece of Bradford’s materials that were pasted, lacquered, and were sanded to reveal a dramatic art piece that you won’t ever forget.
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy
Mark Bradford’s “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” is currently in Guggenheim Museum in New York when it was voted by the Young Collectors Council Acquisitions Committee (YCC) to be a part of Guggenheim’s collection.
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” was created in 2001. This was one of his earlier works, making it an extremely important art piece from the artist. And since it was a work from when he was still quite a new artist, his materials still came from his mother’s salon. This piece was created mostly from permanent-wave endpapers that were burned. He added some paint which creates this stunning grid-like appearance.
While the colors and the end-result create a rather peaceful and nostalgic peace, the burnt ends of the papers show the intense labor that comes with creating this.
Instead of by a person, Mark Bradford’s work was actually more influenced by his experiences in life, specifically being rejected and marginalized. However, Bradford’s organization known as Art + Practice was influenced by a controversial work of exhibit in 1978 “Bad Painting.”
Today, Bradford continues to inspire and influence young contemporary artists especially African-American artists.
Mark Bradford Resources
Wikipedia. Mark Bradford. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Bradford
Christie’s. The ‘social abstraction’ of Mark Bradford. Retrieved from https://www.christies.com/features/The-social-abstraction-of-Mark-Bradford-8909-1.aspx
Hermo, Carmen. (2015, March 3) Celebrating the Contemporary: Mark Bradford, Agnieszka Kurant, and the YCC. Retrieved from https://www.guggenheim.org/blogs/checklist/celebrating-the-contemporary-mark-bradford-agnieszka-kurant-and-the-ycc
Tomkins, Calvin. (2015, June 22) What Else Can Art Do? Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/22/what-else-can-art-do
Bakare, Lanre. Mark Bradford: the artist and ex-hairdresser forcing America to face ugly truths about itself. Retrieved from
Mark Bradford (Phaidon Contemporary Artist Series)
Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth
Mark Bradford: Tomorrow Is Another Day