"Abstraction is the most natural thing to me in the world." - Mark Bradford
There is a silence in Mark Bradford's abstractions; a veiled overtness, just still and there. The World is Flat, 2007, act as a map to places that may already exist for his viewers, yet are found through his own direction. Bradford's oeuvre charts the emerging and expansive realities of the world. The way cities remake themselves over and over again, surpassing their limits faster than planers can plan them or cartographers can record their spontaneous metamorphoses. The artist has stated, "Sometimes you can't put stuff on the top; you have to retrieve something that's on the bottom." (M. Bradford, quoted in Aspen Art Museum, "Upcoming," Aspen Art Museum, January 1, 2013, http://aspenartmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/teachers_guide_bra dford.pdf [accessed April 1 2014]).
Leaving behind our own world, The World is Flat ushers in a new domain of Bradford's own creation. Highlighting spontaneous mutations of the world around us, Bradford's process documents a map that is both in and off the grid - a new world that cannot be restored. Culling its title from the antiquated myth surrounding the flatness of the earth, Bradford's work investigates the notions of constraint and ease--of humanity trapped within the confines of Plato's cave--only to realize there is so much more. While the challenge of exploration and the desire for growth disproved the Earth's flatness, Bradford reverts to it for solace. And yet, The World is Flat goes beyond the illustration of the antedated notion. In the same way a map begins as a gridded city agenda of rigid linearity, The World is Flat too breaks away and expands into unforeseen dimensionality--crushing the guise that the world is flat.
Playing on the tension between flatness and depth, The World is Flat is an iconic example of Bradford's tendency towards large and expansive scale. While most of the layered and punctured dimensionality is drawn towards the center of the work, areas that fill out the edges read as more steadily flat. This shift from one kind of space to another, from an exposed, God's eye view to the unyielding flatness of gridded limitations harkens to the decorative framing devices common to the tradition of idealized maps.
Playing with an array of substance and support, The World is Flat, both obscures process, as well as exposes the absolute body of it. While layers upon layers of mixed media may grip his collaged maps, they are not its identity. Rather, they are used as an instrument for optimal transparency, letting viewers see something as it was, is, and could be. "It's like watching people use a sledgehammer to dig up concrete and then there's nature underneath. I thought I was retrieving some of my own work beneath the surface." (M. Bradford, quoted in M. Carlson, "Mark Bradford Brings Mainstream to the Fringe," Art in America, March 15, 2012, http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/news/mark-bradford-1 [April 1 2014]).
Embossed in layers of billboard paper, posters, and other scavenged ingredients, The World is Flat, lives and breathes as a very carnal and textual being; evocative to the kind of signage and paper-turned-debris from Bradford's native locale, Los Angeles, California. The artist's manner towards his material is both conditional and raw. Lines of string are entrenched between layers of found paper only to then be uprooted and torn from their reworked mantel. A highway of bare skinned fault lines and exposed bedrock result. These arrangements open, amalgamate, and crisscross in complex patterns like ice skaters over a rink. Curvy, whirling channels become grid-like rectilinear sections and convert back again all over the surface, reminiscent of Brice Marden's Cold Mountain series.
Bradford's process results in a saturated urban arrangement, once levied by and with geography. Large spreads of silvery paper are left unharmed and act like undeveloped land that penetrate the edge of constructed layouts, a true grey area, if there ever was. The visual networks that Bradford has created here are buttressed by the socioeconomic systems that represent the merchant posters and papers of his Los Angeles community. They produce a stratum beneath; remains of graphics sneaking through and adding bandages of pigment to the composition, like color-coded zones in a topological map.
The World is Flat, transpires as a test site for gestural expression; a quarried survey into how materials act on a surface. "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," (M. Bradford, quoted in "Mark Bradford: Politics, Process, and Postmodernism," Art21, April 1, 2013, http://www.art21.org/texts/mark-bradford/interview-mark-bradford-politi cs-process-and-postmodernism [April 1 2014]). Stripped of formal representation and left with the raw, splintered crust of a parched floorplan, The World is Flat permits a meditation on its making, letting us see material, materialized. "I tend to obliterate the canvas with paper so it becomes opaque, almost like a wall, and then I begin to build. Between the first layer and the final surface layer of paper is where all the action happens," (M. Bradford, quoted in C. Picard, "Mark Bradford on class and identity in South Central LA," The Art Newspaper, May 7, 2010, http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Mark-Bradford-on-class-and-iden tity-in-South-Central-LA/20702 [April 1 2014]).
Life takes shape through Bradford's process, producing a readymade not defined by origin or conclusion, but by the course it takes throughout. First and foremost, he treats the image of the work as the process of work. His map may not be flat, his lines may not be firm, and his boarders may not be certain, but that is where Bradford's magic lies. A silence, just still and there.