Mark Bradford intuitively constructed The Devil Beating his Wife, a bold and vibrantly colored abstract grid, out of found materials such as merchant posters and permanent wave end papers. Its title refers to a Southern adage describing heavy rain showers falling through bright beams of sunshine, powerfully reflected in the work's color palette. Mark Bradford's monumental work resonates with the experiences of the contemporary city, its fluid assembly, multivalent layering and dynamism, reflecting urban social life's exchange and interplay. The Devil Beating his Wife appears architectural, its myriads of vertical and horizontal planes recalling the urban sprawl of Bradford's home city, Los Angeles. This unique take on Abstract Expressionism's legacy firmly anchors itself in the particularities of place, drawing parallels with Jasper Johns' masterpiece Map (1961). Bradford establishes an artful allegory of society's divisions across lines of class, race and immigration through his multi-colored, distressed and fractured collage surfaces. Indeed, the work intimates the combustive urban violence and destruction of the 1992 LA race riots. Christopher Bedford describes The Devil Beating his Wife, a unique work of raw energy and intricate beauty, as the painting that formally launched Bradford's career.
Bradford's at once intensely premeditates and spontaneously improvises his assembly process in The Devil Beating his Wife, oscillating between painting and collage. He began with a collection of thousands of commercial end papers, designed for use in hair salons; Bradford doctored the thin sheets, scalding each of them along their extremities with a blowtorch. Each of these fragile papers develops their own color, the edges forming dark lines to frame their translucent squares. Bradford then assembled a wealth of these papers across the composition's body, creating linear striations that would be interminable to draw by hand. Chains of squares proliferate vertically and horizontally, interspersed with reproductions of the wave end papers that Bradford has painstakingly photocopied. The resulting effect is a multilayered assembly of translucent and opaque elements in gradations of yellow, beige and gray. Into this collection, Bradford throws heavily soaked, distressed and torn elements from local advertising found in the small radius surrounding his studio in Leimert Park, with the text either unrecognizable or partially obscured in his own unique take on pentimenti. In The Devil Beating his Wife, we can see a large segment from an Absolut Vanilla Vodka ad in the lower right hand corner, drawing an ambiguous or perhaps socially barbed association with the composition. Through this process, Bradford converts his found materials into distinctive media, evoking the unique, dynamic and often explosive cultural interactions witnessed within the city.
Bradford's practice uniquely meditates on the urban environment, introducing fragments of real life onto his paintings' surfaces. In The Devil Beating his Wife, he does this by combining materials that reinforce his commitment to the local, re-presenting those social interactions and marginalized communities that modern art least frequently depicts. In spite of Bradford owing a formal debt to American abstract artists such as Newman, Pollock and Rothko, in The Devil Beating his Wife he desires to formulate a visual language that, no matter how masterful or monumental, remains socially grounded.