Biting the Book

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  • Provenance

    White Cube, London

  • Exhibited

    White Cube, London, Mark Bradford Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, 16 October 2013 - 12 January 2014

  • Literature

    exh. cat., Mark Bradford: Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, London: White Cube, 2013, pp. 8-11 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay


    ‘I may pull the raw material from a very specific place, culturally from a particular place, but then I abstract it. I’m only really interested in abstraction; but social abstraction, not just the 1950s abstraction. The painting practice will always be a painting practice but we’re living in a post-studio world, and this has to do with the relationship with things that are going on outside.’

    - MARK BRADFORD, 2013

    Mark Bradford uses found media – paper from peeling billboards, newsprint, polyester cord, hairdressing endpapers from the perming process – to create an exhilarating and multilayered fusion of his material environment with societal commentary, in a process that he has called ‘social abstraction.’ The works often have their genesis in maps, with veins and channels forming a plan beneath layers of accumulation and excavation; figurative cartography is transcended to map the cultural and economic dynamics that mould communities. The present lot is born of an exhibition that was based on the history of the US highway system, which tore a swathe through poorer urban neighbourhoods during its construction in the 1950s. This precise referent is subsumed into a wider topography of place and history, its pathways made resonant and tantalising. ‘I may pull the raw material from a very specific place, culturally from a particular place, but then I abstract it. I’m only really interested in abstraction; but social abstraction, not just the 1950s abstraction. The painting practice will always be a painting practice but we’re living in a post-studio world, and this has to do with the relationship with things that are going on outside.’ (Mark Bradford in conversation with Susan May, exh. cat. Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, London, White Cube, 2013-14, p.83).

    Although he is frequently compared to Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Bradford’s rejection of this ‘1950s abstraction’ is pointed: he prefers to align himself with artists of the avant-garde CoBrA collective, such as Asger Jorn. ‘I’m always a little leery of that, where people start to reference “nature” and the “expressive” and the “wild” and the “animal” and the “hot,” and they keep going with that until it’s going to eventually get to... “black”! ... So I really don’t like going down that road. Early Abstract Expressionism, with Pollock channelling the inner native American nature, sounds to me like veiled racism, like you have to go into a state to unearth the inner black man, I suppose. Whereas if you look at what was going on in Europe at the same time, abstraction was really very socially embedded. Going back to Jorn, he really had a social politic, it wasn’t really that life is separate from the society in which you live.’ (ibid., p.83).

    Bradford takes this impulse further than his conceptual forebears – his abstraction is not only ‘socially embedded,’ but social ephemera are quite literally embedded in his surfaces. The billposters he uses are largely merchant posters, hoardings from his studio locale of South Central Los Angeles that target residents directly; they allow a glimpse at what he calls the ‘underbelly’ of a society, particularly with his text-based works which take words from advertisements for child custody services and prison telephone calls. Entrenched among byproducts from his previous career as a hairdresser, these posters also speak of a deeply personal psychogeography. Bradford’s décollage reveals these posters as luminous gashes or flashes of colour from beneath other layers, and the present lot is a shining example of his consummate technique.

    As Christopher Bedford writes of this series, ‘Bradford still draws on many of his tried and true formal tropes: hand-drawn lines traced with a caulking gun to provide a sub-layer of linear structure, billboard material, fragments of found text and, of course, paper upon paper upon paper. But there is an effort in these pictures to grind down and push back the information into a palimpsest of colour and texture, and to expand that treatment to such extremes that every painting is an enveloping atmospheric condition unto itself.’ (Christopher Bedford, ‘Patterns of Intention’ in exh. cat. Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, London, White Cube, 2013-14, p.100). Indeed, with Bradford working frequently from aerial shots and Google Maps, the ‘atmospheric’ here seems to reveal itself in what looks like a cloud system swirling over a grid-like urban network. The surface is a huge and ravaged landscape, tired, attacked, bleached and scoured, but fluorescent hints of sub-tectonic vibrancy shine through: erasure results in new opportunities. A complex urban dialectic of appearance and disappearance, of loss and gain, results in a work that is both sharply conceptual and exceptionally beautiful.

  • Artist Bio

    Mark Bradford

    American • 1961

    Now acclaimed worldwide, Mark Bradford was first recognized on the contemporary art scene in 2001, following the inclusion of his multi-layered collage paintings in Thelma Golden’s Freestyle exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The groundbreaking exhibition introduced him alongside 27 other emerging African American artists as part of a generation of "post-Black" artists who sought to transcend the label of "Black artist”, while still deeply exploring and re-defining the complex notions of blackness. Bradford’s ascent has been as awe-inspiring as it is deserving: from critical attention in Freestyle, to his first solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 2007, to his installation at the 2017 Venice Biennial as the first African American artist to represent the United States.

    Critical of the ways in which the annals of art history divorced abstract art from its political context, particularly when looking at the Abstract Expressionists working in the 1950s, Bradford has endeavored to “make abstract painting and imbue it with policy, and political, and gender, and race, and sexuality”. Bradford’s pursuit of what he has termed “social abstraction”, that is, “abstract art with a social or political context clinging to the edges”, is deeply indebted to his choice of materials that allow him to imbue his works with a proliferation of readings, from art historical, to political, to autobiographical.

    Bradford’s choice of material has always been deeply connected to his biography and everyday existence. While Bradford’s early work utilized end-papers, the use of which was inspired by time at his mother’s hair salon, in the mid-2000s the artist shifted towards using paper material sourced on the streets of his immediate neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. Despite the fact that Bradford is known for making paintings out of found printed material, his works only reveals glimpses of their original documentary intent. Working in the lineage of the Dadaists and the Nouveau Réalisme movement, Bradford honed a refined technique of a décollage, a process defined by cutting, tearing away or otherwise removing, pieces of an original image.

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11

Biting the Book

2013
mixed media
260 x 367 cm (102 3/8 x 144 1/2 in.)
Signed, titled and dated 'Biting the Book 2013 Mark Bradford' on the reverse. Named and numbered 'MARK BRADFORD MBX 0095' on a plastic tag attached to the reverse.

Estimate
£1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

sold for £2,546,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
psumner@phillips.com
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening

London Auction 12 February 2015 7pm