Joe Bradley - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 2, 2023 | Phillips
  • Since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1999, Joe Bradley swiftly caught the attention of the New York art scene, realising a solo exhibition at MoMA PS1 in 2006, and debuting at the Whitney Biennial in 2008. Since then, throughout his extensive and versatile artistic practice, Bradley continues to deliver a diverse body of work which ‘shifts gears without pause.’i The unparalleled breadth of his oeuvre comprises an accomplished array of different techniques, always with an emphasis on process, incorporating painting, drawing, sculpture and mixed media works, that continually open up new ways for the artist to explore traditional means of abstraction.


    Painted in 2018, Day Rite illustrates Bradley’s recent shift back towards gestural abstraction, using thickly applied oil paint to build up rich, painterly layers of colour and form. Tidier and more absolute than some of his former bodies of work, the arrangement of dense, loosely geometric forms that extend to the very extremities of the canvas demonstrate the artist’s preoccupation with ‘building a painting rather than composing one.’ii Working directly on the floor of his studio, using oil paint straight from the tube onto the canvas, Bradley divides his surface into sections, patiently constructing each segmented layer as it dries. It might begin with a fundamental image or a concept, but that is quickly overridden in favour of the slabs of opaque colour, recalling Nicolas de Staël’s distinctive use of colour to create space, light, and form. The resulting intersection of distinct but unidentifiable forms feels almost structural, recalling the artist’s earlier bold, modular works and patchwork collages, whilst simultaneously evoking the tactile freeness of line seen in his drawings. Day Rite exemplifies the artist’s fascination with artistic process, with its architecturally constructed fields of bright, tessellated colour that appear solid and tactile.


    Nicolas de Staël, Sicile, 1955, Musée de Grenoble, Grenoble. Image: Adagp Images, Paris, / SCALA, Florence, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2023

    Revitalizing abstraction


    Drawing upon may of the iconic artistic modes of abstraction, Bradley encompasses a rich understanding of art historical references, whilst at the same time presenting something refreshingly new. In this way, canvases such as Day Rite exist as ‘breathless arguments for the reanimation of abstract painterly languages.’iii Take Bradley’s examination of chromatic relationships, which bears strong resemblance to the work of Ellsworth Kelly and his important role in the rise of Colour Field Painting and Minimalism. Both Kelly’s Primary Tapestry and Day Rite are paintings that refine and interrogate the visual interactions of adjacent blocks of colour - in each instance more specifically those of primary reds and yellows with darker, muted tones. But Bradley’s delineated forms, sitting ever so slightly closer to the realm of figuration, and introduction of additional colours, elevates this further; gestural interjections of Prussian blue, pink, green and shocking white provide an even deeper study of colour and form, reinvented in the artist’s own unique abstract visual language.


    Clyfford Still, 1957-D No. 1, 1953, Buffalo AKG Art Museum. Image: Buffalo AKG Art Museum/Art Resource, NY/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © City and County of Denver / DACS 2023


    Day Rite also recalls the work of Clyfford Still, a nod this time to Abstract Expressionism that further informs Bradley’s work. In particular, it stylistically evokes Still’s use of the colour black, which he superimposed with patches of vivid, intense colour. Echoes of the striking placement of rich, primary hues subsisting against the black ground in Still’s PH-1 can also be seen in Day Rite’s palette. In a return to some of the fundamental origins of 20th Century abstraction, a practice in which Still was integral in developing, Bradley reimagines the potential of the most pared back, tonal contrasts: ‘[Bradley] wants his palette to refer to nothing other than itself.’iv In his early years Bradley painted landscapes, albeit reductive, but by the time Day Rite was realised the subject matter had largely become irrelevant. Much like Still, painting for Bradley instead became far more about the process; building the surface layer by layer, without distraction, focusing on the evocative significance of the colours alone.

    I think that time moves slower in painting. And maybe that accounts for a lot of the anxiety around painting in the last forty or fifty years. You have the twentieth century wrapping up and everything is moving at this breakneck speed? And then, painting is still walking. It’s just a very human activity that takes time.” 
    —Joe Bradley

    By utilising the established modes of 20th Century abstraction and breaking down the boundaries between different disciplines, Bradley rewrites his own unique visual dialect. In refusing to limit himself by adhering to a particular style, and by effortlessly interlacing the old with the new, the artist delivers an exciting and evolving oeuvre that continues to challenge our expectations of abstract art. This is no more apparent than in Day Rite, with its barely discernible forms obscured by swathes of bold colour, we get the sense, in the artist’s own words, that we are ‘listening to two radio stations at the same time’; it is within its own unique frequency of painting.


    Collector’s digest

    • Bradley work can be found in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The George Economou Collection, Athens; and Nytt Nasjonalmuseet, Fredriksen Family Collection, Oslo, among others.

    • He was included in the Forever Now exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2015-2015, organized by Laura Hoptman.

    • In 2017 he was the subject of a major mid-career survey show organized by The Albright-Knox Art Gallery which later travelled to the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University



    i Cathleen Chaffee, ‘Joe Bradley: Use the Right Tool for the Job’, in Joe Bradley, ed. Pam Hatley, New York, 2017, p.13.

    ii Phyllis Tuchman, ‘Work in Progress: Joe Bradley’, Gagosian Quarterly, Winter 2018, online.

    iii Laura Hoptman, ‘Abstraction’s Moustache’, in Joe Bradley: Eric’s Hair, ed. Alison Macdonald, Beverley Hills, p. 4.

    iv Phyllis Tuchman, ‘Work in Progress: Joe Bradley’, Gagosian Quarterly, Winter 2018, online.

    v Kim Conaty, ‘Still Walking: Painting Over Time’, in Joe Bradley, ed. Pam Hatley, New York, 2017, p. 36.  

    • Provenance

      Gagosian Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018

    • Exhibited

      London, Gagosian Gallery, Joe Bradley: Day World, 3 October - 15 December 2018, pp. 60, 94 (installation view illustrated, pp. 59, 66; illustrated, p. 61; details illustrated, pp. 62-65)

    • Literature

      Phyllis Tuchman, 'Work in Progress: Joe Bradley', Gagosian Quarterly, Winter 2018 (illustrated in the artist's studio, p. 29)

Property from a Distinguished Collection


Day Rite

signed and dated ‘Joe Bradley 18’ on the overlap
oil on canvas
203.2 x 228.6 cm (80 x 90 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

£300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for £406,400

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Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

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Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 March 2023