Mark Bradford - Mark Bradford on Clyfford Still - Image via metmuseumorg

Mark Bradford

United States 1961

Conceptual Art

Mark Bradford
Mark Bradford
United States
July 2, 2016
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With a phenomenal ability to unite high art and popular culture through a variety of unorthodox methods, artist Mark Bradford has been blending his characteristic mixed-media collages and paintings with segments of billboards, flyers and stencils for over a decade now. Through a strongly abstract vocabulary, he made a routine out of simultaneously channeling his own identity and objective social observations through his artwork. In an ambitious attempt to somehow categorize his art as precisely as possible, we believe Bradford can be placed on a common ground of abstract and conceptual art as his work manages to reach the highest creative peaks of both these artistic methods without falling victim to any of the troublesome obstacles common to both conceptual art and abstraction.

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Mark Bradford – Los Moscos, 2004 – Image via

Early Life and It’s Related Work

Mark Bradford is native to Los Angeles and was born in the southern parts of the city, but spent a large chunk of his childhood in Santa Monica after his family moved here when he was 11 years old. His mother Janice Banks owned a beauty salon in Leimert Park and Mark killed off most of his free toddler time at this location, helping his mom as much as he was able to. Even before Bradford graduated from high school, he was constantly showing glimpses of creative potential and this naturally reflected on all the artistic classes at his school. Despite being regularly praised for creativity, young Bradford never seemed confident and decisive enough when it came to his art. After he graduated and obtained his hairdresser’s license so he can have a sure job at his mother’s shop, Mark decided art was something worth pursuing a career in. However, it would take years for him to take the next collegiate step in that regard – he obtained his higher education at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA, a prestigious institution he enrolled at when he was at the age of 30! Mark received a BFA in 1995 and an MFA in 1997, passing both with flying colors. During these student years, it was remarkable to many that someone who was showing such extraordinary achievements whilst attending college actually spent his early years working at his mother’s hair salon. Logically enough, this particular setting reflected strongly upon his initial art as Mark’s earliest works were made with the use of permanent-wave endpapers, foil and dye. Nevertheless, these earliest pieces were already showing how much imagination and potential there was in Bradford and, luckily enough, now they were nothing but signs of greater things to come. Now he was on the right path, armed with all the collegiate knowledge at his disposal and ready to take the art world by storm.

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Mark Bradford – Potable Water, 2005 – Image via

Somewhere Between Museum Paintings, Collage and Designing

Ever since Bradford graduated, he became noticed for the characteristic grid-like abstract paintings in which he was frequently combining collage with standard paints. His art was semi-figurative at best at it was obvious from the get-go that the concepts behind the artworks were the primary elements of Mark’s interests. One of the pieces which can be used as a prime example of how Mark works is the famous Orbit (2007) – the painting contains a newspaper clipping of a basketball placed inside a thick structure of LA streets. The piece was actually created by both using the collage and décollage techniques, relying on the cumulative and subtractive processes to deliver a dynamic depiction of a decaying city whose tiny, obscure street grids were no longer able to maintain its skeletal integrity. With this artwork, Bradford desired to raise awareness concerning the formidable problem of mass consumption and the piece became even more impressive as Mark revealed that it was essentially made on completely improvisational grounds. It also proved Mark was able to tackle any medium he deemed necessary in his artistic goals. Interestingly, Bradford’s ostensibly abstract paintings are not actual commentaries as much as examinations of specific conditions that shape communities. Another noticeable piece Bradford authored is titled A Truly Rich Man is One Whose Children Run into His Arms Even When His Hands Are Empty (2008) – it’s a 9 feet wide and 9 feet tall painting brimming with abstraction and yet again emphasizing the characteristic grid-like nature Mark was already renowned for. Maxwell Heller gave an excellent statement concerning the Rich Man: it calls to mind the charred and shattered windshields of cars burned in riots—black, webbed with streaks of light, sleek. If studied section by section, it offers traces of the artist’s sensual, tactile process, revealing delicate layers of found material sliced and sanded, lacquered and pasted until transformed. Interestingly, Bradford’s ostensibly abstract paintings are not actual commentaries as much as examinations of specific conditions that shape communities.

Bradford is primarily famous for his flexibility with artistic tools as he is quite capable of handling virtually any medium he desires

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Mark Bradford – Rebuild South Central Without Liquor Stores, 2015 – Image via

Newest Art Projects

Besides the aforementioned abstract paintings, Bradford’s practice also encompasses videos, prints and installations as he stands from nothing in order to reach the desired artistic goals. As a matter of fact, it seems as though he often emphasizes the importance of combining techniques and relishes chances to experiment with various methods. Among his installations, one that really stands out is the one titled Mithra (2008) – for this piece, Bradford shipped a huge ark constructed solely from salvaged plywood barricades all the way to New Orleans in order for it to participate in the happening commemorating Hurricane Katrina. This was actually the first of two installation pieces Mark launched that same year concerning the horrific events of Hurricane Katrina – the second piece known as SOS was situated on the rooftop of the Steve Turner Contemporary Gallery, right across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. When looked from above, the enormous installation said simply HELP US, giving the entire piece a strong shock value. More recently, Bradford worked on projects quite various in nature as he narrated the soundtrack to the site-specific dance duet Framework by choreographer Benjamin Millepied (2012), created a wall drawing inspired by Sol LeWitt (2015), authored the Waterwall piece composed of remnants of paper and rope (2015), etc. Numerous other projects were done in recent years as well, some larger in scale than others, but all extremely effective and narratively sharp despite the ambiguous form. Throughout his career, Mark Bradford has been known to cooperate with other artists on regular basis, combining his own works with the likes of Catherine Opie, Amy Sillman and Kara Walker. Amongst numerous awards Mark received for his artworks, what really stands out are the Nancy Graves Foundation Grant, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, the Bucksbaum Award and the MacArthur Fellowship.

Tirelessly presenting his popular work in worldwide exhibitions, Mark has always been able to attract mass attention of the viewers

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Mark Bradford – White Cube Circus, 2014 – Image via

An Artistic Fairy Tale

Bradford’s life story in many ways resembles a fairy tale – a man with immense hidden talent holds a trivial job for years untill the day he finally starts pursuing what he desires the most in this world, successfully overcoming all the obstacles placed before him and making his deepest dream come true. Currently, Mark is living the happily ever after segment of his fairy tale. And as he enjoys the happy ending, he tirelessly continues to create his energetic conceptual pieces, all immediately recognizable by the simultaneous chaos and order, coordination and impulsiveness, logic and confusion. Such a peculiar style makes sure Mark Bradford still has a lot left in his tank to offer and we can surely look forward to more pieces from him in the future.

This artist is represented by White Cube Bermondsey London, Hauser & Wirth Zürich and White Cube Mason’s Yard London.

David Begbie lives and works in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Featured Image: Mark Bradford – Mark Bradford on Clyfford Still – Image via
All images used for illustrative purposes only

YearExhibition Title Gallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Mark Bradford: Receive Calls on Your Cell Phone From Jail Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Saint Louis, MOSolo
2016Shade: Clyfford Still / Mark BradfordAlbright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY Group
201630 AmericansCincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH Group
2016IlluminationLouisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk Group
2015Mark BradfordGeM - Museum voor Actuele Kunst, The HagueSolo
2015Mark Bradford: Scorched EarthHammer Museum, Los Angeles, CASolo
2015Mark Bradford / Matrix 172The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CTSolo
2015Mark Bradford: Tears of a TreeRockbund Art Museum (RAM), ShanghaiSolo
2014Void, ‘Civil Rights’, Derry, Northern Ireland Group Group
2014 ‘Variations: Conversations In and Around Abstract Painting’LACMA Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles CA Group
2014‘My Head Became a Rock’Hauser & Wirth, Zurich, Switzerland Solo
2014‘Mark Bradford: Sea Monsters’, (Travelling exhibition)The Rose Art Museum Waltham MA , Solo
2014White Cube‘New Work’, Hong Kong, China Solo
2014White Cube Sao Paulo, Brazil Solo
2014‘Bell Tower’The Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles Airport, Los Angeles CA (Special Commission) Group
2014Transforming the Known: Works from The Bert Kreuk CollectionGemeente Museum, The Hague Group
2013The Gesture and the Sign White Cube, Sao Paulo Group
2012ROUNDTABLE 9th Gwangju Biennale, Korea Group
2012The Painting Factory Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Group
2012With that ass they won't look at your eyes Rubin Gallery, University of Texas, El PasoSolo
2012UntitledSan Francisco Museum of Modern ArtSolo
2012UntitledSikkema Jenkins, NYSolo
2011Mark Bradford MCA Chicago, Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art, TexasSolo
2011Painting… EXPANDED Espacio 1414, Santurce, Spain Group
2011Untitled 12th International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul Group
2011New Order White Cube, London Group
2010Media City Seoul 6th International Biennale of Seoul, Seoul Group
2010Invisible Shadows – Images of Uncertainty Marta Herford, Herford Group
2010Alphabet Studio Museum, Harlem, New York Solo
2010The Pistol That Whistles White Cube, London Solo
2010You’re Nobody (Until Somebody Kills You) Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; Institute of Contemporary Art, BostonSolo
2010Merchant Posters Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, COSolo
2010Hard Targets Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH Group
2010America Here + Now Curated by Eric Fischl Presented by Artrain Group
2009Mark Bradford and Kara Walker Sikkema Jenkins & Co, New York, NY Group
2008UntitledArtPace, San Antonio, TX Solo
2008Maps and Manifests: New work by Mark Bradford Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OHSolo
2008Nobody Jones Sikkema Jenkins & Co, New York, NY (solo) Group
2007Neither New nor Correct: New Work by Mark Bradford Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYSolo
2007Street Level: Mark Bradford, William Cordova, Robin Rhode Nasher Museum, Duke University, Durham, NC March Group
2006–2007Art on Paper, 200, Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC, Group
2006–2007The Other Side of Perfect World Class Boxing, Miami FL Group
2006Mark Bradford Niagra, LA> Group
2006Red Eye: L.A. Artists from the Rubell Family Collection Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL. Group
2006Black Alphabet- ConTEXTS of Contemporary African-American Art Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland. Group
2006USA TODAYRoyal Academy of the Arts, London Group
2006Consider This…(a LACMALab project) LA County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA Group
2006Witness Protection Robert V. Fullerton Art Museum, California State University, San Bernardino, CA Group
2006Meditations in an Emergency Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, MI Group
2006The Home of the Free Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago Group
2006Busan Biennial Busan, South Korea Group
2006Black Alphabet Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland Group
2006Dark Places Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA Group
2006Sisqueiros Project Curated by Lauri Firstenberg REDCAT, Los Angeles, CA Group
2006Whitney Biennial Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY Group
2006Sao Paolo Biennial Sao Paolo, Brazil Group
2005inSite: Art Practices in the Public Domain San Diego, CA and Tijuana, Mexico Group
2005Grace and Measure Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, NY Group
2005Farsites San Diego Museum of Art, CA and the Centro Cultural de Tijuana, Mexico Group
2005African Queen Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY Group
2004California Biennial Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA Group
2004Perspectives @25: A Quarter-Century of New Art in Houston Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX. Group
2004Bounce: Mark Bradford and Glenn Kaino REDCAT, Los Angeles, CA Group
2004Broad Territories UCR, California Museum of Photography, Riverside, CA Group
2003Very Powerful Lords Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York, NY Group
2003ARCO 2003 Madrid, Spain Group
2003Lean To Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT Group
2003Black Belt Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY Group
2003Hair Stories (traveling exhibition) Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, AZ Group
2003'Very Powerful Lords'Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York Lombard-Freid Fine Arts, NY Solo
2003'statements' ARCO 2003, curated by Lauri Firstenberg, Madrid Group
2002'Pertaining to Painting,Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX Group
2002'Mirror Image,' curated by Russell Ferguson UCLA Hammer Museum and Center for Curatorial Studies Group
2002Museum Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY Group
2002'Painting as Paradox' Artists Space, NY Group
2002'gucci down to the socks' Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica, CA Solo
2002'Project Series 16: Mark Bradford' Pomona College Museum of Art, Claremont, CA Solo
2002'caught up' Susanne Vielmetter Projects, Los Angeles, CASolo
2002'that wasn't my car you saw' Finesilver Gallery, San Antonio, TXSolo
2002Mirror Image, curated by Russell Ferguson, UCLA Hammer Museum (traveled to Center for Curatorial Studies Museum, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY) Group
2002Pertaining to Painting Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX (traveled to Austin Museum of Art, Austin, TX) Group
2002Painting as Paradox Artists Space, New York, NY Group
2001Freestyle Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (traveled to Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA) Group
2001Snapshots: New Art from Los Angeles UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (traveled to Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami Beach, FL) Group
2001'I don't think you ready for this jelly' Lombard-Freid Fine Arts, NYSolo
2001'Freestyle' curated by Thelma Golden and Christine Kim Studio Museum, Harlem, New York, NY and Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA Group
2001'Snapshots: New Art from Los Angeles' UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA and Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami Beach Group
2001'Mixed Feelings' University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA Group
2001'Capital Art, 2001' Track 16 Gallery, Santa Monica, CA Group
2000'Contemporary Art by African American Artists' The Art Museum of Princeton, NJ Group
2000'Color Theory' Luggage Store, San Francisco, CASolo
2000'Fresh Cut Afros' Watts Towers Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Group
2000'Black Male' Reginald Ingraham Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Group
2000Contemporary Art by African American Artists The Art Museum of Princeton, NJ Group
1999Biennale Internazionale 1999 Palazzo degli Affari, Florence, Italy Group
1999'A Place Called Lovely' Greene Naftali, New York, NY Group
1999'Biennale Internazionale 1999' Palazzo degli Affari, Florence, Italy Group
1999'European Wavy' Two Rivers Gallery, Pittsburgh, PASolo
1998'European Wavy'Two Rivers Gallery, Pittsburgh, PASolo
1998'Floss' Walter McBean Gallery, San Francisco, CA Solo
1998'Floss' Walter McBean Gallery, San Francisco, CA Solo