Last, but not least, of my London outings, was the stunning exhibition of Mark Bradford’s work at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery.
Los Angeles artist Bradford is known for his large, grid-like paintings which combine paint with collage.
The paintings have to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. He uses a complicated process of layering: the fabric of each painting is formed from strata of pigmented paper which are scored, lacerated and stripped away, along with lengths of rope which are stretched or coiled, sometimes painted over and sometimes ripped out to leave ruts in the surface of the work. See detail below.
Bradford worked as a hairdresser (his mother owned a beauty salon) and only went to study at the California Institute of the Arts in 1991 at the age of 30.
Throughout his career, he has collected ‘merchant posters’ which are printed sheets posted in neighborhoods, advertising services such as cheap transitional housing, foreclosure prevention, food assistance, debt relief, wigs, jobs, DNA-derived paternity testing, gun shows and quick cash, as well as legal advice for immigrants, child custody and divorce.
Bradford transforms the materials he scavenges from the street into wall-size collages and installations; he is inspired by subjects as diverse as civil riots, migrant communities, abandoned public spaces and, in this instance, mythology.
The exhibition is entitled Cerberus, a reference to the many headed dog guarding the entryway to Hades. It is a metaphor representing the ‘in-between’, places difficult and fissured. As he says himself, Cerberus is an “ambivalent character. Is he keeping people out or is he keeping people in?”
I’ve been fascinated by Bradford’s work for a while – the only other artist I know who uses texture to such effect is Anselm Kiefer. But I’ve seen Kiefer’s work live before – this was the first time I’ve been close to a Bradford painting. I was blown away by their sheer size and presence.