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Abstract artist asserts his philosophy on social issues and art

By Jess Linde

Section: Arts

March 21, 2013

The Rose Art Museum welcomed Los Angeles abstract artist Mark Bradford as a special guest to discuss his process, his inspirations, and to answer student questions on March 19 . A group of students, teachers and off-campus guests gathered downstairs at the Rose in front of one of Bradford’s paintings, which has been housed at museum for much of the spring semester. There, they listened intently as Bradford answered questions from Rose director Chris Bedford. Bradford engaged the audience in each of his answers, telling jokes and anecdotes, and winning over those gathered.

“I hate the idea of falling into something; a pattern is bad for me…I like to keep moving,” said Bradford of his artistic process. Bradford first became known for making art out of colored paper stripped off of old billboards, but has since expanded into sculptures, painting, and performance art. Throughout his artistic expansion, Bradford has always been sure to include significant social influences in his work. As someone who grew up with small businesses and in low-income communities, Bradford has a unique take on art in that he has never felt at home in the traditional art world.

Rather than create art to be sold for millions at auctions, Bradford has always desired a more local and intimate feel for his work. In the case of the billboard paper, Bradford said, “I wanted the colors to be recognizable in the way that someone might say, ‘That looks like that cheap lawyer billboard!’ I wanted them to be recognizable at a street level.” Bradford also said that his greatest fear is becoming a pretentious artist who makes claims about the depth of his art that he cannot back up. This is a trend Bradford sees as too prevalent in the modern art world, and something that he wants to challenge.

One of the most engaging aspects of the discussion was when Bradford embellished on his philosophy of social issues and art. He highlighted a story of his visit to New Orleans, only a few years after Hurricane Katrina. When Bradford arrived, it was his intention to create an art project that captured the local atmosphere, and to use the project for charity. As he had hoped, the project gained enough attention from the art world to bring an art fair to the area, and many artworks were sold for charity. However, Bradford saw the fair foremost as artists selling their work, only giving to charity secondly, and was disgruntled with the project despite its success. That was also when Bradford decided to include social justice and charity support as part of the art he produced. In his words, it was “the moment I started to take some of the power back.”

Regarding his broader goals, Bradford told Bedford and the audience that he wants to “elbow his way to the table.” He noted that he, Mark Bradford, is a very small part of the artistic world; and as an African-American man, he is an even smaller part of the abstract movement that resides within the artistic world. Bradford wants to be recognized and well-known not for the sake of fame, but for the sake of the tiny worlds he feels a part of, to give them a voice in the art world. He is trying to be revolutionary, but at the same time he is worried about seeming to try too hard. It is this personal honesty that gives Bradford’s words and his art authenticity.

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