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Property of a Private Collector

White Painting

White Painting
signed with the artist's initial, titled and dated 'White Painting 2009 M' (on the reverse)
mixed media on canvas
102 x 144 in. (259 x 366 cm.)
Executed in 2009.
Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
Saatchi Collection, London
Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, London, 15 October 2010, lot 9
Private collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2011
London, Saatchi Gallery, Abstract America: New Paintings & Sculpture at the Saatchi Gallery, May 2009-January 2010.

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A visually condensed and evocative study of personal cartographies, Mark Bradford’s White Painting is a striking testament to the artist’s investigations into the patterns found in social strata, lived experience and the history of art. Sourcing materials and inspiration in equal measure from the streets of Los Angeles where he lives and works, the artist examines urban society through the lens of abstraction. Utilizing a meticulous, labor-intensive process, Bradford builds, subtracts, adds, and excavates until his surfaces are infused with visual artifacts and the traces of his investigative incursions. Expanding on his methods, the artist notes, “I like to walk through the city and find details and then abstract them and make them my own. I’m not speaking for a community or trying to make a sociopolitical point. At the end, it’s my mapping. My subjectivity” (M. Bradford, cited in “Market>Place,” Art21, 2007). Often pointing toward the practice of recording, both for as a way of experiencing a place and creating a visual record, Bradford constructs vast webs of interconnecting marks like those in White Painting that lead the eye across the painting’s surface through compounded layers of paint and found material. Like main thoroughfares forging across the urban sprawl, these lines splinter, veer, and collide in a systematic crawl that gradually overtakes the entire composition.

At twelve feet across, White Painting is an all-encompassing composition that envelops the viewer with rich surfaces and intricate details. Split into two discrete areas, the artist reveals his hand by juxtaposing an ordered structure with a more abstract realm beneath. The upper portion resembles the ‘dymaxion’ geometry of architect Buckminster Fuller, its lustrous white surface inundated with a web of incisions that create a vast network of triangles and quadrilaterals that spread from edge to edge. In the lower section, the bright white is scraped away to reveal an underlayment of pilfered advertisements, print materials (including an Apple gift card), and other debris that Bradford piles atop a green ground. This verdant underlayer comes through at points where the artist’s scratched and incised line penetrates the uppermost paint.

Following this newly revealed thread of color, one realizes that it also peers out on the top of the painting along with areas of pink and black, all of which allude to a rich substructure throughout the work. Speaking about his interest in layers and their ability to show and hide information, Bradford explains, "I understand transparency because of the erosion of paper. What fascinates me about surface is the way in which paper creates depth, but at the same time it still has its singular form...I'm pulling back a lot with color in general, because at the moment I'm very interested in the relationship to line, the relationship to shape...I'm very interested in looking at structures right now" (M. Bradford, cited by C. Eliel in Mark Bradford, exh. cat., The Ohio State University, Wexner Center for the Arts, 2010-12, p. 63). The artist’s interest in structures extends from formal compositions to social systems, and his ability to merge the two is a testament to his knowledge of history, infrastructure, and the plight of the individual within a larger arrangement.

Bradford rose to prominence after the curator Thelma Golden included his work in her now-legendary 2001 exhibition Freestyle at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Revolving around issues of the Black experience and the controversial idea of “post-black”, the show highlighted African-American artists who were pushing the boundaries of art at the turn of the century. Bradford’s interest in systems and their changeable nature was in keeping with the exhibition’s focus, and Golden later wrote about his use of maps as a pictorial representation of society’s ability to shift. In her article, he quoted Bradford who explained, “Maps to me are such fragile systems, because at the moment of a war, at the moment of gentrification, they change. So they're the most inflexible, flexible thing I can think of. They imbue you with this security, and at the same time they're deeply, deeply flawed. They document the history of power; they document the history of wars. Maps document lots of lies... Maps to me are tricky and insidious, and they've always fascinated me” (M. Bradford, quoted in T. Golden, “Mark Bradford: The Other Side of Perfect”, October 2006, reproduced at

In White Painting, the carved lines within the work’s surface allude to intricate road systems and transportation grids within the American city while also remaining completely nonrepresentational. As they are scraped away, the sharp lines fade to reveal a rich tapestry of collaged paper and visual signifiers. Peeling back the layers of paint is akin to zooming in on a map until the smallest details can be observed. The closer you get, the less abstract and more personal the piece becomes. Viewing a map without knowledge of the people and cultures that live within its confines can be clinical and cold, but walk the streets outlined by the cartographer and one can reveal the underlying society that makes that area rich.

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