The best part about summer heat waves is finding fun activities indoors. So last week I took advantage of one 99-degree afternoon and went to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It was Tuesday and the place was full of activity, with school groups and their evening jazz concert on the lawn. I had been looking forward to checking out the Mark Bradford Project, an exhibition of a survey of the artist’s work and it did not disappoint.
Mark Bradford is a mixed media artist who’s pieces aim to address racial and political themes of the communities he represents. Although Bradford refers to himself as a painter, his technique is more akin to a unique blend of collage and décollage practices using references and materials gathered from the neighborhoods he uses for inspiration. His approach is part anthropology, part innovation. He layers materials and uses techniques of reduction and addition to create his large canvases and sculptures that tell a story about a particular place. His art gives a voice to the residents and calls attention to the socio-political, cultural, socio-economic, and racial inequalities that exist in his community.
Bradford’s style is a cultural mapping that records and tells a narrative of the spaces he is representing. Some of his sites are his current home of the Leimart Park community in Los Angeles and post Katrina New Orleans. The retrospective showcases his abilities to capture the essence of a neighborhood and their consciousness through his medium. He uses many references that are unique to the black experience, both in the titles of his work, which often utilize African American vernacular and colloquiums and the imagery that he collects from neighborhoods to use as materials. Many of his art pieces employ the makeshift signs often found in neighborhoods offering local services that can be found on vacant walls and infrastructure like light posts. One piece that stood out was James Brown Is Dead which examined the many faces of the artist and eras of his career and asked the audience to postulate which version of the icon had died.
Bradford’s process of abstracting these aspects of his experience allows him to have a personal connection to both the place represented, the people who share that experience, a well as the end user. As a conduit to address many issues of social justice, human nature, and ethnic identities, Bradford’s work creatively interprets and visualizes the reality. Looking at his piece Potable Water, through his use of composition, color, and textures, Bradford transmit a strong message about civic water sources and the reality of many people’s access to clean water.
As an artist Mark Bradford has taken his voice and creativity and turned into a way of creating art that is sure to keep delighting us all for years to come. I for one am excited to see what else this talented artist has in store. This summer Bradford has an artist residency at the MCA, so in addition to his exhibit, there are also other public lectures and programs here. There is also an online blog related to the exhibit. Be sure to check out his exhibit, The Mark Bradford Project at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago until September 18, 2011.