Mark Bradford

As I mentioned in my prize-unboxing post, part of the reason I went to SFMoMA was to see the Mark Bradford exhibition. I didn’t really know what to expect since it’s impossible to really understand this work until you see it. But it was supposed to be good. And it was. Huge collages with lots of texture which both invite and reward inspection at a number of viewing distances.

I wish I could touch them.

Bradford’s work definitely falls into the category of artwork which is compelling enough on its own that it doesn’t need a lot of explanatory text. Information on media and method is nice to learn but the concepts are also simple enough that I can see Bradford-like art projects* being a great activity to do with kids.

*Using Elmers glue, found paper, and twine.

It’s also interesting to see this exhibition so soon after seeing Walker Evans. Evans has a number of photos of advertising posters which are layered upon years of accumulated advertising. As new images are added and as things age and weather, the textures and unexpected combinations of images which develop present found art to someone with Evans’s eye. Bradford takes this concept a step further by provoking the textures and combinations intentionally through layering printed material on top of printed material and then sanding away portions to reveal the layers.

Because he works with the materials of his community, he ends up creating collages which draw upon and comment on his experiences. I’m not sure I agree with the way that he’s presented as a black artist since his work isn’t as overtly black as say Kara Walker’s, Chris Ofili’s,* or Fred Wilson’s is. While he references black themes in his titles, I get a much more Los Angeles ghetto vibe from him in a way which makes his art speak for any non-white lower-class group in the West Coast.

*Yes, I know that Chris Ofili isn’t American. There’s a reason I said “black” instead of “African American.”

Heck, his art is pretty Los Angeles just in general. LA is a weird weird place were anyone and everyone can reinvent themselves. There is history there. But it’s papered over with fake history* which has taken on a life of its own to the point where the fake history is legitimately historical too. This rewriting of history is embedded in the geography of the street grid and highway right of ways as neighborhoods are redeveloped/destroyed.**

*Olvera Street.

**Chavez Ravine and South Central.

That much of Bradford’s work references the city grid only confirms my sense of his work as belonging to LA. To be fair, he is able to reference other places—I really liked his Katrina/New Orleans piece in particular. But to drive through LA is to see fragments of past versions of the city peeking through the latest veneer—mini Ruwedels glimpsed from a Gohlke point of view, maybe at 70mph if you’re lucky, but more likely through the frustration of stop-and-go traffic.

I don’t know whether LA is gigantic Bradford collage or if Bradford’s collages just happen to encapsulate my sense of what Los Angeles is. But his work has me wanting to read City of Quartz now.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

8 thoughts on “Mark Bradford”

  1. Pingback: iPad Art | n j w v

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