‘I Was Using Materials That Had Memory’: Watch Mark Bradford Build Elaborate Abstract Paintings That Reflect the Real World

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

Mark Bradford, courtesy of the artist

If you couldn’t travel to the Venice Biennale last year to see artist Mark Bradford’s sweeping installation at the United States pavilion, you are in luck. A version of the exhibition is now on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Like much of Bradford’s work, the show transforms ordinary materials—like advertisements, flyers, and end papers—into monuments that seek to express the American experience.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of the series “Paradox,” Bradford explained the dual impulses of creating and destroying material in the service of his work. “My practice is both collage and décollage at the same time,” he explains. “Décollage, I take it away—and then collage, I immediately add it right back.”

The artist, who got his start crafting hand-lettered signage for his mother’s hair salon in Los Angeles, seeks to infuse his abstraction with real-world events and issues. In a 2006 installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for example, he displayed works inspired by a local Martin Luther King Day parade and a night market in Egypt.

“I was using materials that had memory,” he told Art21. “The conditions that are going on at that particular moment at that particular location” become the abstracted grids of a city map, recording the memories of a certain place and time.

It is fitting, then, that Bradford likes to really get to know the places where he is showing. That’s part of why he has tweaked the Venice presentation for Baltimore. While in Venice, the artist engaged in a long-term partnership with a local nonprofit that worked to help reintegrate the city’s incarcerated population. In Baltimore, he is collaborating with the community art space the Greenmount West Community Center to help expand the center’s offerings to local families.

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Mark Bradford: Tomorrow Is Another Day” is on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art through March 3, 2019. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.


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