Joe Bradley is a young giant among the select group of heroic American male painters. When I entered his show at Gavin Brown Enterprise, it immediately conjured up De Kooning, Stills, Motherwell, Reinhardt and Noland. In my mind I saw Clement Greenberg nodding in critical approval.
This is Joe Bradley’s second show with Gavin Brown Enterprise. He is 40 years old and paints in a variety of styles. There is currently a feeding frenzy for his work! Recent auction records reflect a healthy respect for the quality of his work. The “11th hour” charity auction headed by Leonardo DiCaprio in New York last month sold a painting of his for $650 thousand USD. Charity auctions tend to fetch higher hammer prices, as 50% over the high estimate qualifies as a tax deduction to the buyer, but even Christies and Sothebys sold paintings this season for 200-400 thousand dollars. As his primary dealer, Phil Grauer of CANADA says, “Joe is a brand you can trust”.
CANADA gave Mr. Bradley his first solo show in New York in 2006. The paintings were large, mostly monochrome panels of stretched painted canvas assembled to look like humans, albeit more robot than humanoid. The paintings were offered for $6,000 and almost no one bought them. However, the work caught the attention of art dealer Javier Peres who gave Mr. Bradley his first solo in Los Angeles the following year. Curator Shamim Momin saw the LA show and invited Mr. Bradley to bring his robots to the 2008 Whitney Biennial. (Bradley agreed but changed up materials for the Biennial making monochrome panels out of stretched vinyl instead of painted canvas.) At the end of 2008 Bradley was scheduled for his second show CANADA and by this time everyone wanted a ‘robot’ painting (which starting selling for $60,000 at auction). Bradley gave them something else entirely –primitive, childlike black oilstick drawings on dirty unprimed canvases called “Schmagoo Paintings”.
For his latest body of work at Gavin Brown Enterprise, Mr. Bradley returns to brushing paint on canvas. Although they retain the look and feel previously achieved with his oil stick, the canvases are more filled in and thick in build up. Some are also enormous thanks to the industrial sewing machine Mr. Bradley uses to stitch together pieces of painted canvas into single paintings. We first saw the patchwork paintings in 2012 at Galerie Eva Presenhuber in Zurich where large scale oil stick paintings were sewn together with other large oil stick on canvas paintings to create super large oil stick paintings. The seams create rectilinear panels in the work that bring warm memories of the old robot paintings. Bradley’s most successful patched painting at Gavin Brown is also the sparest – three quarters raw canvas sewn to one quarter bright green splotch. A breathtaking Spring flag.
In a 2011 interview in the Paris review, BRADLEY said “I don’t go into painting with any kind of plan. The ones I am happiest with I have no idea how I arrived at. The best ones are always a real surprise. For most of the paintings I use unprimed canvas and oil paint. I like drawing when the canvas is on the floor, and then I’ll pin it up and see what it looks like on the wall. Sometimes, I turn it over and work on the other side. The nature of the oil paint is that it kind of bleeds through the raw canvas so you have some sort of residual marks seeping through from the other side and influencing the composition.”
While the paintings on view at Gavin Brown enterprise were not physically painted last summer in East Hampton, they clearly reflect the time he spent there, in a house once owned by Elaine De Koonig. Sea, woods and sun are evident in the abundance of yellow, blue and green palette. We are looking at what he was looking at, an inherent energy spiraling within nature. The paint is very energized in a push pull dialectic.
An entire wall at the Gavin Brown show is devoted to Mr Bradley’s charcoal on newsprint drawings – primitive marks on paper that look part comic book, part cave drawing and remind one of the black and white silhouette paintings of 2010 and 2011. Called “Human Form” paintings, the imagery was taken from gifs lifted from an online break dancing manual found on the internet. The contrast of super dark black against pristine white was, again, breathtaking. Those huge humanoid figures in ‘walk like an Egyptian’ poses were total elegance.
Of all of Bradley’s gifts, his greatest is his agency to move without fear through materials and techniques to create whatever is currently tickling his fancy. His show at Gavin Brown is trademark Bradley fearlessness with color and paint, form and abstraction. – I love you madly Joe Bradley!
Words: Lizanne Merrill © Artlyst 2013 Photo: Courtesy Gavin Brown Enterprise ©2013
Until 29 June Gavin Brown’s enterprise 620 Greenwich Street New York NY 10014