Cities live in his collages and paintings. At first glance wall-sized Mark Bradford (b. 1961) paintings are beautiful. But understanding the technique and the materials makes the work all the more powerful.
The Oakland Museum of California showed an exhibit titled “Oakland, I want you to know” featuring a colorful map that showed the redlines banks used to determine if a loan is safe to issue. The reds were blood-red. It’s simple, if you’re within the red lines you can’t get a loan from the bank. This is true of many long-term residents of Oakland and other cities across the country. This stark red color is seen again, though. Mark Bradford, a collage… or de-collage artist using materials found around urban environments, creates a similar image that recalls these redlining maps. Mark Bradford paintings can be easily associated with redlining maps in neighborhoods being gentrified like Oakland.
Is Mark Bradford Painting?
Mark Bradford paintings are actually painted with paper, questioning the norms of painting. Paper is soaked and broken down into pigment which can be used as paint like most know it. Mark Bradford encourages his viewers to question many things, but also gets people to think about how painting and daily life are changing.
Because of the materials used, a Mark Bradford painting might be better considered a collage. Bradford even calls them de-collages. He even calls himself an archeologist:
My practice is décollage and collage at the same time. Décollage: I take it away; collage: I immediately add it right back. It’s almost like a rhythm. I’m a builder and a demolisher. I put up so I can tear down. I’m a speculator and a developer. In archaeological terms, I excavate and I build at the same time (Bradford 2011).
Mark Bradford paintings can be seen everywhere. From discarded newspapers about to swirl into the storm drains on a rainy day to the bills posted over a graffiti mural on the walls of a noisy nearby construction site. You can see Mark Bradford paintings in your Starbucks cup. You can see them in your bus pass. This is because Mark Bradford paintings are made from paper. And with a media-rich culture, this paper paint can be found just about anywhere.
Mark Bradford paintings are created from found paper much like found objects however the process is what makes his paintings unique. “I think if Rauschenberg were pulling from the streets now, he and I would be fighting for the billboards (Bradford 2011).
Process is paramount in Mark Bradford paintings. The process is the commentary on contemporary times. Before, painting was the application of linseed oil and pigments on a canvas. At the time it could be a very political act and is still respected as such. But what has painting become now? And what is the most powerful act one can do in art?
Bradford, Mark (2011). Politics, Process, and Postmodernism: Mark Bradford. Art 21. Retrieved from art21.org/read/mark-bradford-politics-process-and-postmodernism.