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Joe Bradley (B. 1975)
signed twice and inscribed 'JOE BRADLEY 2011 GOO-GOO GANG' (on the stretcher); signed again twice and dated again 'Joe Bradley 12' (on the overlap)
oil and oilstick on canvas
101 x 120 in. (256.5 x 304.8 cm.)
Painted in 2012.
Gavin Brown's Enterprise, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Long Island City, MoMA PS1, Expo 1: New York, May-September 2013.
Dijon, Le Consortium, Joe Bradley, June-September 2014.

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

The raw, gestural force of Joe Bradley’s paintings—with their accumulation of marks, studio grit and bright, unmodulated colors—results from a careful and prolonged process of thoughtful consideration. Painted in 2012, Untitled typifies the deliberately primitive style of this coveted period that has solidified Bradley’s reputation as one of the leading artists of his generation. A vast, muscular painting, Untitled displays the directness of Bradley’s technique. The simplicity of his geometric forms, rendered in vibrant, crayon-box colors, hits the viewer with authority. The painting’s central square-like form emerges from a cacophonous riot of dirty marks, smears and smudges, like a checkered flag from some errant pirate ship or the blacked-out windows of a derelict building. Brushy areas of vivid, unmodulated paint emerge, rendered in a gestural back-and-forth that is both childlike and masterful, recalling the forceful beauty of Philip Guston or the tortured genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Often left on the studio floor, Bradley’s paintings accumulate the dirt and debris of his slow, deliberate process, only to be reconfigured and sewn back together in new arrangements. The palimpsest-like paintings that result provide the keys that unlock his captivating, process-oriented work.  

Now a seasoned painter, Bradley’s particular blend of “macho elegance” has reached a new level of refinement, with his most recent series of paintings consisting of large planes of brushily-rendered primary colors evoking the simple visual vocabulary of Hans Hofmann and Josef Albers. Bradley’s sophisticated pictorial language is a carefully-calculated blend of potent geometric forms, rendered in a faux-naif style. As in Untitled, works from this era are typically executed on the raw, unprimed canvas that appeals to him, which allows for a more direct interaction between the artist and his work that is akin to drawing on paper. He recalls: “Unprimed canvas looks like paper in a way; to me it looks like newsprint. …when you have a primed surface, the paint just kind of skates across the surface, and the brushstroke, the mark, just kind of stands up, in a way. But when you’re working on unprimed canvas, it’s sort of—you’re almost etching into the surface” (J. Bradley, quoted in P. Bui, “Art in Conversation: Joe Bradley with Phong Bui,” Brooklyn Rail, February 3, 2011).

The unprimed quality of the raw canvas, left to linger on the studio floor where it acquires the dirt and debris of Bradley’s process, adds a gritty quality to the otherwise elegant simplicity of Bradley’s work. He recalls: “I work on them flat. I walk on them. They pick up paint and whatever else is on the floor. I like them to look really filthy” (J. Bradley, quoted in R. Simonini, “Joe Bradley,” The Believer, November-December 2012). In this way, Bradley’s working method recalls Jackson Pollock’s process of unrolling sheets of unprimed canvas on his studio floor. Indeed, there is an audacious, brawny virtuosity in Bradley’s work that he shares with Pollock; as the art critic Brian Boucher relates: This rough treatment only adds to the allure” (B. Boucher, “Joe Bradley,” Art in America, March 2011). In Untitled, the scribbled areas of opaque primary colors arranged in dense arrangement upon such a dirty, mark-riddled canvas actually belies an inner sophistication that is the result of their slow, thoughtful process. As part of his working method, Bradley spends countless hours alone with a particular work, in which he makes subtle adjustments, often turning the canvas over or rotating it if he finds a particularly interesting passage. A keen element of his process is the amount of time that he spends looking at the work of other artists which allows him to engage more fully with his own work. He describes: “I think that painting relates very neatly to inner travel and the exploration of inner worlds. With painting, I always get the impression that you’re sort of entering into a shared space. There’s everyone who’s painted in the past, and everyone who is painting in the present” (J. Bradley, quoted in L. Hoptman, “Art: Joe Bradley,” Interview Magazine, May 16, 2013).

Indeed, Bradley’s paintings reference not one specific genre but a limitless set of artistic influences that are passed through the very specific and personal lens of his painterly vision. In Untitled, Bradley’s hovering squares pay homage to Josef Albers, while their deliberately naive rendering recalls the expressive painterly quality of Philip Guston, particularly his abstract compositions of the early 1960s. Guston’s deliberately crude line, his love of R. Crumb and his resolutely idiosyncratic style shares many similarities with Bradley. Other references, from the allover marks of Cy Twombly to the oilstick graffiti of Basquiat, abound. Yet, Bradley’s multifaceted paintings brazenly defy conventional methodology, providing instead a unique hybridization that references past masters yet remains resolutely all their own.

Above all, Bradley’s paintings maintain a strict honesty and a truth-to-materials that feels refreshing in a media-saturated world. His work never pretends or imitates, but rather insists on the materials of its creation. It should come as no surprise, then, that Bradley’s work has been garnering greater critical and commercial acclaim of late; the Museum of Modern Art in New York has acquired eleven works by Bradley since 2011. As Bradley himself proclaimed: “Painting is very satisfying but not exactly fun. I like the pace of it. I like that it’s an experience that resists media. You have to be there in front of it to experience it—that’s a rare item these days” (J. Bradley, quoted in S. LaCava, “Studio Visit: Joe Bradley,” Paris Review, No. 22, February 2011).

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