03 May 2021

The curious case of Katherine Bradford

I didn't know of Katherine Bradford, but then I am not in the loop, and besides, there are so many painters out there I am amazed I know about any at all.

I used to be subscribed to videos shot of shows around New York by James Kalm who renders a great service to those of us outside by posting regularly. In his earlier days he was often chased out of galleries not because they were fearful of images being sent out to the world (why would they?) No, they chased out guys like him because they could, because they are snobs and they have to maintain that frosty, snobby facade to protect their cool. 

His videos were quite wonky (which he always admitted light-heartedly) and they could make you sea sick watching them BUT, he was in on the game which I liked. He is a painter himself, and came into Manhattan from Red Hook to dodge security at the big shows in SOHO and Chelsea.

In any event, he interviewed Katherine Bradford at one point a few years back, and I saw some of it. From just from that interview I was immediately attracted to her sensibility with paint and form.

This past week Hyperallergic (an online art review) did a small blurb about a new show of hers in New York. Here are some images from that but also others I culled from Google which pleased me.


And though generally speaking, artists dislike being told that their work resembles others, even great heroes of the past, I cannot abide by that etiquette so I will say that I find that there is a bit of Milton Avery and Philip Guston lodged inside her colourful chromosomes. It is a great compliment I think because both are original and distinctive painters who actually understood the long history of Art; Painting, notably. I like her pictorial imagination as much as I like her wild colour harmonies. I also find these pictures to be remarkably unified. Ms. Bradford expresses what she needs to express, but nothing more. This is a quality I like in a painter (in a writer too).

Her ideas, of which in each picture there are plenty, never seem to be corrupted by her own painting technique which kills (through vanity) so many other painters over the long haul of art history. But her technique is so hidden that I hesitate to use this term. So let's say, the paint never seems to smother the quixotic  ideas assembled on her own personal stage. The unity of the painting always seems paramount, and we are so grateful.

I know it is a hard pathway into that space between figuration and 'abstraction'. Many painters fall on their backsides attempting it. She appears completely at ease in this, in the same way that most children do. There is an unabashed kookiness in so many of them, (and not a faux-kookiness which seems so à la mode these days). 

I see in her work a desire to create a cogent language out of this ‘kooky’ originality by using her Painting sensibility to create a bridge out to others. Too many painters don’t seem to care about that. 

But of course, they are contrived nonetheless because that's what paintings essentially are. Pictures are contrived distortions to convey a reality. Whether they work to convincingly convey reality is obviously not just up to the beholder but also to the painter’s competence over his craft. And reality these days seems to be a pretty contested fact.

Art criticism then comes into play in order to throw this conveyance upside down. Suffice to say, for myself, the ultimate pleasure I receive from a picture is how much or not, I enjoy seeing it. If I own it and can see it every time I go from the bathroom to the kitchen I will spend a lot of time with it, and this will alter my feelings about it. But maybe I will just see it once a year in a museum, then how will that experience also temper my enjoyment? How does a picture (or work of art) stand up against time? Doesn’t it need a language, which however arcane, sufficient enough to speak to another generation? 

I also like the strong graphic bones with which she attacks her drawings for each picture. They have the bite of a pit bull. For instance, I love the woman below in the yellow bathing suit diving into the ambiguous-looking coloured water. It's a discreet and multi-coloured grey which binds the entire surface together as if it were a giant jigsaw puzzle. 

And it's a bit kitsch! But it also portrays a woman, as if on her last day on earth, she takes her very last dive. 

The colour harmonies in this kitschy picture work so well. It is this sophistication of colour which separates an image like this from a painting hanging on the wall of a motel room outside of Carson City, Nevada. 

I like these works because they are weird and quirky, and they express a primal quality which is unusual, unusual to succeed that is. I am thinking of the Grand Dame of Primal in Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'. I like weird and quirky, and primal. I wish in fact I could be more primal, in my own work. 

Often, I am  attracted to things which I don't always understand, things intelligent, and things strong, but if original and they possess sufficient form, then I am all in. Obviously though, this has created enormous problems in my choices in women. (!)

I was asked by someone who reads this blog, why I don't delve into Art criticism in depth regarding many of the images of which I speak. I replied that I understand that people do not have much time, especially for a blog like this, so generally I try to keep it short. The purpose of this Blog has been, after all, to just throw ideas out to the world, both pictorial and cerebral. But over 11 years, it’s actually been an opportunity to learn how to write. And because it's my own content, of course, I post a lot of my own work, because I can.

'Brevity is the Soul of Wit' so they say.


No comments:

Post a Comment