Evoking the legacy of Jean Dubuffet and Cy Twombly, Joe Bradley’s expansive canvases also strike a more contemporary resonance with the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Philip Guston. Titled Harold, the present work poses a contradiction between its dormant figurative subject and lively abstract form. Despite its title, it initially appears as an abstract painting, but as Bradley emphasizes, he has “no motivation to make an abstract painting, even if [my paintings] sometimes read as abstract” (J. Bradley quoted in L.M Hoptman. 3/29/2013 "Joe Bradley." Interview Magazine, http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/joe-bradley#). Harold encapsulates an innovative spirit through the demonstrative lines and curves and vibrant and contrasting colors. The contrast between these elements and the white space of the canvas further accentuates the dynamisms of the colors and strokes, allowing each to reverberate with painterly energy.
The poetic engagement in Bradley’s process evokes the synergy of Pollock’s gestural drips, Twombly’s continuous mark-making and Franz Kline’s dynamic scrolls. ‘There’s a long period of just groping around,” Bradley explains. “I usually have some kind of source material to work off of—a drawing or a found image—but this ends up getting buried in the process. Most of the painting happens on the floor, then I’ll pin them up periodically to see what they look like on the wall. I work on both sides of the painting too. If one side starts to feel unmanageable, I’ll turn it over and screw around with the other side. That was something that just happened out of being a frugal guy, I guess. But then, because I am working on unprepared canvas, I get this bleed through. The oil paint will bleed through to the other side, so I get this sort of incidental mark” (J. Bradley, quoted in interview with R. Simonini, "Joe Bradley" in Believer, July 2012, p. 65). However, unlike the masters of Abstract Expressionism, Bradley’s paintings stem from a source image, similar to the practices of the Pop artists. Through layers of paint and workings, the original source image no longer exists in is primal state. Bradley’s attitude towards reading his seemingly abstract works remains democratic, as he expressed, “I don’t like to hear people’s elaborate excuses for making art, so I don’t try to make any myself ... there’s no way of telling what people think or what’s coming across” (J. Bradley, quoted in S. LaCava, "Studio Visit: Joe Bradley" in The Paris Review, February 2011, reproduced at http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/02/22/joe-bradley/ [accessed 25 May 2015]). Harold captures the complexity and paradox that Bradley presents in his paintings and puts forth a distilled creative genius, extracted through the workings of previous masters.