Clap Back offers a strong example of Bradford’s early multimedia collages. Often large in scale, astutely abstract, and intricately material, Bradford’s collages mark the artist’s serious engagement with the tradition of modernist painting. He even refers to the works as paintings, although as many are quick to point out, there is very little paint involved in these complex compositions. As curator Christopher Bedford has observed, “It is not the raw, limitless potentiality of oil, clay, wood, bronze, graphite, or any ‘fine art’ material that motivates Bradford, but the functionally specific, socially bounded character of materials that have an explicit purpose in the world before their incorporation into his work.”
The material that makes up the many layers of Bradford’s work is mostly found or repurposed paper: fragments of billboards rescued from the streets of South Central Los Angeles; found “merchant papers,” as Bradford has termed the street flyers and posters that he pulls from construction site barriers and telephone poles; and endpapers—used in styling hair—repurposed from the salon where Bradford had worked as a hairdresser. These materials anchor Bradford’s collages, adding personal, cultural, and geographic layers to the many that accrue atop his canvases. Music has been a source of inspiration to the artist throughout his career, and he often gives his works evocative titles that allude to hip hop or other musical sources, and the present work's title, Clap Back, is lifted from Ja Rule's eponymous album which debuted the year prior. Bradford’s methodology is both additive and destructive, building dense layers of matter only to erode them. He works quickly, intuitively, adding and subtracting until he is able to balance the energy of the composition. In the pursuit of this equilibrium, Bradford’s collages evoke both the exhibitionism of Rauschenberg’s combines and the suppressions of Richter’s 90s era abstractions. In dialogue with the material culture and economic realities of his community as much as with traditions of 20th century painting, Bradford forges a new space within the history of abstraction.
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