Bradley emerged onto the broader art scene with his “modular paintings” shown in the 2008 Whitney Biennial to great critical acclaim. A direct affront to minimalism, formally conjuring the shaped canvases and monochromatic works of Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella, Bradley arranges casually rendered monochromatic canvases to recall anthropomorphic forms of larger than life android figures. This body of work alludes to both Modernist geometric constructions and the abstracted human form, a sculptural concept that is further reconciled on a painterly level. Radiating serious complexity and conceptual rigor while simultaneously underlined by humor, Bradley’s artistic practice is as much informed by the art historical debate between form and content as it is by quotidian experience.
As much admired for his breakthroughs in painting, Bradley also very seamlessly moves between greatly variegated bodies of work that each very distinctly invigorate new statements in painting. The Schmagoo paintings “elevated drawing to the status of painting. Their debut was the most important moment in Bradley’s career to date…because they laid the conceptual groundwork for the abstract paintings he continues to produce today” (ibid. p. 18). Incorporating thin lines and stick figure renderings of trace references of signs and symbols from popular culture, the Schmagoos are executed with a childlike simplicity but on a monumental scale typically reserved for painting. He would begin to develop more colorful and painterly styles of working within these very stringent boundaries. Though mostly abstract, Camel, does contain figurative motifs in the form of a very clearly outlined brown star at the upper right that appears, in contrast to the densely layered and sculptural surface of the rest of the painting, flattened and solid in its rendering.
Executed on the studio floor, his large abstracts convey the physicality of action painting without the fluidity of his Abstract expressionist predecessors. With footprints and other trace remnants of the studio encased upon the surface, his large abstracts become an investigation in the process of painting itself. Drawing from the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, large areas of color are juxtaposed with scrawling, drawn elements. Unlike Jackson Pollock, who was known for whipping out finished paintings in a matter of hours, Bradley describes his method as thoughtful and laborious. While he does not always begin a painting with a particular composition in mind, each stroke is carefully considered and placed. The underlying impetus for the painting is not emotive, but intellectual. Nick Stillman writes, “Whether motioning toward the sublime or the base, Bradley’s work is always formally elegant” (Nick Stillman, “Joe Bradley,” Art Forum, January 2009). Color also becomes a predominant narrative in the execution of his large scale abstracts. Incorporating bold, primary colors alongside neutral earth tones, Bradley is the master of pulsating, rich surfaces that have firmly ensconced him within the pantheon of some of the greatest painters of his generation. Kim Conaty writes that “Compelled by open-ended situations rather than polemical statements, he has learned to paint through history, and in the process, has made his own distinct contributions to it” (Janne Siren in Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Joe Bradley, 2017, p. 51).
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