“It's easy to see Basquiat, Guston and cave painting in their messy, bold lines and weathered textures. In these large abstractions, scribbled-looking passages in bright colors are set against areas of canvas marked only with dirt; my eyes moved restlessly over them, sometimes unable to decide where to focus. The canvases are painted on both sides, so that faint areas of flat color, visible from the back, are in dialogue with heavily painted areas on the front, which often include contrasting colors laid over each other. The result is real visual electricity” (B. Boucher, “Joe Bradley,” Art In America, 25 March 2011).
Joe Bradley’s Human Heart from 2009 is at once dynamic, powerful and perhaps unapologetically sentimental. A large crimson heart is pierced through with two yellow arrows over a series of jostling lines, smears and marks. The surface is lathered with evidence of wear and repeated contact. Bradley leaves his canvases on his studio floor as he works, walking around them as they pick up dirt and footprints. The weathered surface of Bradley’s paintings is evocative of Basquiat, while the expressive application of paint and doodle-like composition suggest closer links to Guston’s expressive bravado and Twombly baroque paintings of the early 60s. Bradley’s markings are as decisive and as they are at times ambiguous.
Joe Bradley’s fourteen year career since first arriving to New York City in 2000 has been one of rapid shifts in styles in a way that only an artist of true raw talent can successfully achieve. His ever-changing styles and strains defy categorization. First gaining the attention of the art world in the 2008 Whitney Biennial with his modular Robot paintings—allusive to 80s video game figures while also evocative of the monochromatic and shaped canvases of Ellsworth Kelly. These were quickly replaced by the Schmagoo paintings where he doodled random shapes and forms in grease pencil onto shoddy canvases. By 2010, the bare canvas of the Schmagoo painting was swapped by the expressive, colorful and textured surfaces characteristic of the Cave paintings. While defying categorization Bradley’s work is consistently playing with and blending abstraction and figuration, sophistication and primitiveness.
Human Heart comes out of a period of transition for Bradley. Its sketchy quality and the dominance of the line drawing evokes his Schmagoo paintings while the colorful and deliberate use of oil paint and the overworked surface of the canvas foreshadows the Cave paintings that would soon follow. Perhaps more importantly, Human Heart is painted the same year that Bradley meets his girlfriend and now wife, Valentina. Whatever the meaning of the shapes, Bradley’s work is unapologetically playful and direct. “I guess I have no motivation to make an abstract painting, even if they sometimes read as abstract. I think, with abstraction, it's easy to fall into a sort of pastiche” (J. Bradley interviewed by L. Hoptman, “Joe Bradley” in Interview Magazine http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/joe-bradley# accessed October 9, 2014).