Monday, April 16, 2012

Katherine Bradford

Twenty minutes after leaving my place, I was greeted by Katherine Bradford at her studio building just off of Bedford Avenue. As she took me up to the second floor, I asked how long she had been working in this building -- since 1985 she explained. She said Williamsburg was more of a working class neighborhood back then, just a place where people lived. She said it wasn't so easy to get folks over to her studio. The art world didn't often visit Brooklyn, even though for her it was only one stop over on the L train. Funny to think how things have changed, since the majority of my visits have been in this borough. Kathy's space is pretty excellent -- ideal for any painter's practice. There are multiple working zones, an area for smaller paintings and mini-sculptures, a wall for viewing and painting on larger pieces (one side for oil the other acrylic), and a serene sitting area set up in the middle for checking out the works in progress. We started our afternoon talking over the paintings she has made for her solo exhibition opening at Edward Thorp Gallery this Thursday, April 19th. Some of them being two years in the making.

Where do I begin?  Maybe by saying how delighted I felt to be getting to see these works in their original setting before heading to the gallery, maybe by saying just how much they inspired me. Kathy's  paintings ask the viewer to let go. They allow for connections to be made between the compelling imagery and space within them freely and without a push from any kind of direct narrative. Like reading a poem that never overtly connotes its subject, the viewer's imagination is as active a participant while observing as Kathy's must have been while making. One recurring theme in this body of work might be buoyancy or ethereality. And then there are these two powerful, almost monumental figures used in most pieces -- a big ship or a Superman, both being held up by the elements much like we might hold them up in importance. It got me thinking, maybe all things rely on something else to hold them up, regardless of what we might think of their strengths. And maybe the paint itself could be seen as an element -- earth, wind, fire, water and paint, as though Kathy's application of paint could give buoyancy. I liked to think of Superman as he headed for the clouds, levitated by Kathy's chroma saturated world, almost stuck to the canvas like my eyes were to the painting. My mind was running wild.

We talked a bit about process. Kathy does a lot of adding and removing when working on a painting. There are these supremely subtle and delectable shifts of color and mark making found in every inch of her work. When I looked closely I could see a house hidden behind the large supernatural polka-dot ball that seemed to have landed softly, lighting up the night sky.  I asked about her smaller works, if making them gave her any kind of immediate pleasure that the bigger works could not. She laughed and said yes. They are so satisfying to look at too. Scaling down the ships so that they might be held in a hand seemed like yet another way to question their importance and weight.

Our time went by so quickly. As I stared at the painting of Superman with his legs crossed, as though he was sitting for a portrait, I got lost in all the its magic. I was telling Kathy that often people don't view a work for as long as I do when I draw it, that I get to experience the paintings in a different way, really studying them, each part from top to bottom. By the end I thought I could have lived under those floating colored puffs of air gliding above the man in red and blue. She also gave to me one of the beautiful catalogues she had made with a grant she received from The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, with photographs and images of her sculptures and paintings, an amazing work of art in its own right. I so enjoyed getting to talk to Kathy and hearing all of her stories. Our conversations were as rich as the visuals. I strongly encourage you to go see her solo exhibition, to get lost like I did. And to see more of her work go to:


  1. My favorite of all of these is the row of little ocean liner paintings. You made these paintings look like they are not only hand painted (thanks so much) but also hand carved out of chunks of native wood. You really elevated them to some kind of other worldly realm and I'm so grateful.

  2. I enjoyed drawing them, I liked to think of each ship as bigger then it was as I drew it. Like it could have cruised right off of the canvas, into your studio.

  3. Yet another reason why I'm so sad to be 3,000 miles away in California. This is such a treat on so many levels: I agree that it is a different experience to see the work in the space it was made, and then there's the work you made OF the work. It's own thing, but says something about your experience of Bradford's work. I'm not only sad now that I've missed seeing work in the gallery, I'm sad that I missed seeing the work in the studio. In the flesh I mean. But I am so grateful for this!