Mark Bradford (b. 1961)
Mark Bradford (b. 1961)

Mailing A Country 1

Details
Mark Bradford (b. 1961)
Mailing A Country 1
mixed media collage mounted on canvas
collage: 61 x 100 1/2 in. (154.9 x 255.2 cm.)
overall: 81 1/2 x 114 in. (207 x 289.5 cm.)
Executed in 2014.
Provenance
White Cube, Hong Kong
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
Hong Kong, White Cube, Mark Bradford: New Work, May-August 2014.

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Alex Berggruen
Alex Berggruen

Lot Essay

"If something exists on the periphery of culture, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to exist as peripheral culture. If I choose to pick material that is obviously in the public domain and use it in my studio to produce abstract painting, once I do it belongs to a very different history or myth that has been venerated for a long time. The lines are multiplying; that’s why I always trace my own lines. I do draw, but then I go over the lines with another medium, or go over them with a string. That tracing removes the emotion from the gesture." (M. Bradford, quoted in Mark Bradford, exh. cat, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2007, p. 97)

"I want my materials to actually have the memoires – the cultural, personal memories that are lodged in the object. You can’t erase history, no matter what you do. It bleeds through." (M. Bradford, quoted in Mark Bradford: Merchant Posters, exh. cat., Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, 2010, p. 10)


Mark Bradford’s monumental work, Mailing a Country 1, explores the social and political framework of the world’s most densely populated city, Hong Kong, through the perspective of urban planning. Known for his stratified, abstracted maps evocative of the contemporary urban experience, Bradford employs his signature décollage-collage methodology to transform Hong Kong’s public housing blueprints into a lacerated, layered accumulation across canvas. Bradford overlays and then sands down layer upon layer of paper, both found scraps of billboard posters and newsprint and digitally-printed color sheets, to create a fresco-like expanse.

The interwoven maze of vibrant reds and yellows interrupted by patches of blues forms both a modernist and urban grid that parallels the interwoven sociopolitical conditions that make up Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s housing topology manifests in the work’s variegated surface, formed by Bradford’s additive-subtractive technique. Unlike the rest of his oeuvre, Mailing a Country 1’s use of negative space allows the viewer to focus intently on the electrifying map and the conditions it addresses. Bradford’s repurposing of found materials defines his identity as both visual artist and urban anthropologist; a self-proclaimed “paper chaser” (M. Bradford, quoted in C. Bedford, “Against Abstraction,” in Mark Bradford, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, 2010, p. 11), Bradford describes of himself, “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-politics-process-postmodernism). About half of Hong Kong’s population lives in overcrowded government-subsidized housing, and Bradford’s work, with its expansive lattice of tiny squares reminiscent of cramped living units, stresses the city’s lack of affordable housing. Bradford addresses the city’s complexities through his anthropological approach to art, as with the rest of his body of work, fusing abstract painting with social awareness–termed “social abstraction” by the artist.

A native of Los Angeles, another city with complex sociopolitical structures, Bradford grew up between working in his mother’s hair salon in Leimert Park, a popular residence for upper-middle class African Americans, and living in a boarding house in West Adams, an old section of L.A. As Bradford recalls, West Adams “…was like growing up in a raggedy Titanic, grand but fallen on hard times” (M. Bradford, quoted in C. Tomkins, “What Else Can Art Do?,” New Yorker, June 22, 2015). At eleven, his mother moved them from what is now South Los Angeles to a nearly all-white neighborhood in Santa Monica. After high school, Bradford returned to the hair salon: “I was bridging worlds. I lived in Santa Monica and worked in South Central, but I never defined myself as a black kid in a white neighborhood, or as a Westside kid in a black neighborhood” (Ibid.). In his 20s, Bradford shifted between Los Angeles, brimming with pre-riot tensions, and leisurely Europe. The artist’s exposure and observation to these intertwined worlds–black and white, rich and poor–has pushed his desire to present art highlighting the experiences of him and of marginalized populations.

Formally abstract but referential in content, Bradford’s oeuvre addresses the networks of local economies, public space, and social conditions rooted in the contemporary experience of the urban landscape through the re-appropriation of scavenged ephemera. Bradford “reanimates the ripped-and-torn décollage methodology trademarked by Jacques Villeglé and Raymond Hains in the 1950s” (M. Wilson, “Mark Bradford,” Artforum, April 2008, n.p.). The scraps of billboard papers, merchant posters, hairdressing endpapers, and newsprint, considered visual pollution in its regular context, are transformed–torn, cut, peeled, gouged, bleached, singed, sanded–and decontextualized into visual art. Bradford builds upon stretched canvas with layers of his found papers, finishing each layer with a coat of clear shellac. Occasionally, he will embed string to create the linear qualities that make up his signature grid-like patterns, only to attack the buildup he has formed with sanders and other power tools to bring back to the surface what was buried, layers below. When he does venture for actual art supplies rather than the discarded scraps found around Los Angeles, Bradford takes a trip to Home Depot; he asserts, “’If Home Depot doesn’t have it, Mark Bradford doesn’t want it’” (M. Bradford, quoted in C. Tomkins, “What Else Can Art Do?”, New Yorker, June 22, 2015).

Through Bradford’s anthropological artistic process, life takes shape; he creates a work defined not by its origin or conclusion, but by the progression of its manifestation, equating the image of the work to the process of the work.

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