‘This Ain’t Trash! This Is Art!’: See How Revered Artist Mark Bradford Transforms Throw-Away Papers Into Bold Paintings

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Mark Bradford in Los Angeles, California. AFP PHOTO / David McNew (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images).

Long before he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, won the MacArthur “Genius” Award, or had collectors paying eight figure sums for his artworks at auction, Los Angeles-born artist Mark Bradford loved to watch his mother working as a hairdresser. One of the most vital tools in that profession, the young Bradford soon learned, are end papers—thin sheets of translucent paper that protect the hair from damage while it is being set into permanent waves.

Bradford worked in his mother’s beauty salon as a young adult, and got the idea to incorporate end papers into his collaged paintings. Eventually, he broadened his use of materials to include posters, flyers, and other paper detritus from local businesses.

I start walking around, looking for paper… I know it when I see it,” he told Art21 back in 2008 as part of the “Extended Play” series, describing his process of discovering art materials.

Not everyone, of course, gets his process, a fact he learned the hard way when returning from a trip to Bali. “I had a whole lot of this paper,” he told Art21. “I was going through customs, and the official said, ‘why are you bringing back trash?’ I said, ‘This ain’t trash, this is art!'”

Currently at the Modern in Fort Worth, an entire show is dedicated to Bradford’s use of end papers and other printed matter, including 35 major “End Paper” works from private and public collections as well as brand new works made for the show.


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. “Mark Bradford: End Papers” is on view at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth from March 8–August 9, 2020. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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