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Property from a Prominent Private Collection

Is he a man or monster

Bradford, M.
Is he a man or monster
signed, titled and dated 'IS he man or monster 2018 Mark Bradford' (on the reverse)
mixed media on canvas
30 x 24 in. (76.2 x 61.1 cm.)
Executed in 2018.
Hauser & Wirth
Private collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Julian Ehrlich
Julian Ehrlich Associate Vice President, Specialist, Head of Post-War to Present Sale

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Lot Essay

A searing rhythm of form and hue, Is he a man or monster fuses comic book tear sheets with bold, writhing print. As material emerges through faded text, ink blurs, runs, and soaks away. Deciphering the content of these messages is hardly possible; instead, the canvas gives way to an optical depth and resonance, jolted by fragmented symbols of the commercial world.
As a self-described “builder and demolisher,” Mark Bradford has garnered international acclaim for his collaged, torn, and fused abstractions that are, literally speaking, not painted at all. Over the years, he has developed and refined a technique using numerous layers of found paper, pioneering a new way “to paint without using paint” (M. Bradford, quoted in Neither New Nor Correct New Work by Mark Bradford, exh. cat, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2007). Gathering found and salvaged materials from the area surrounding his Los Angeles studio, the artist appropriates text from local advertisements and pushes them toward abstraction, weathering away their printed messages to produce a visual effect more akin to a thunderous ruin.

Mark Bradford’s Merchant Posters – a term the artist coined to describe both the series to which the present canvas belongs and the printed material from which they are conceived – are forged from posters tacked up to telephone poles, lampposts, and plywood barricades over construction sites, responding to the emergency needs particular to his neighborhood. Declaring “RECEIVE CALLS FROM YOUR CELL FROM JAIL” (the present lot); “IS THIS CHILD YOURS?”; and “THE PROMISE LAND SOBER LIVING MEN & WOMEN FREE,” these posters record the urgent demands of the local economy, fade in the sun, and are soon obscured by new ones, which are in turn covered over.

This raw material that forms the basis of Bradford’s work signifies the churning, ever-changing demands of urban living, fragmented artifacts of a particular point in history. By recombining this matter, Bradford invokes time and place to expand on the project of abstraction set forth by his twentieth century forebears. “As a twenty-first century African American artist,” he notes, “when I look back at Abstract Expressionism, I get the politics, I get the problems, I get the theories, I can read [Clyfford Still’s] manifestos, but I think there are other ways of looking through abstraction. To use the whole social fabric of our society as a point of departure for abstraction reanimates it, dusts it off. It becomes really interesting to me, and supercharged” (M. Bradford, “Clyfford Still’s Paintings,” in The Artist Project: What Artists See When They Look at Art, New York, Phaidon, 2017, p. 46).

Living amid the material fragments of our time and culture, we find fresh significance in their recontextualization. By combining, destroying, and otherwise obscuring this ephemera—correspondent to the merchant posters’ transience in the world, both physical and economic—Bradford engages with the basic human history of creation and ruin. This foundational narrative is especially salient in an era where structures and technologies shift continuously at unprecedented speeds. Drawn into the swift demands of the times, what becomes of the individual? Does he create, or destroy? Is he a man or monster?

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