Joe Bradley - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Joe Bradley, 'Big Boy', Lot 21

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Provenance

    Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York
    Private Collection, Puerto Rico
    Phillips, New York, 16 November 2017, lot 37
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Gavin Brown's enterprise, Mouth and Foot Paintings, 8 January - 19 February 2011
    Eugene, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Masterworks on Loan, June - September 2019

  • Literature

    'In Conversation: Joe Bradley with Phong Bui', The Brooklyn Rail, 3 February 2011, online (illustrated)
    Laura Hoptman, 'Joe Bradley', Interview Magazine, June 2014, online (illustrated)
    Cathleen Chaffee, Dan Nadel and Kim Conaty, Joe Bradley, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York, 2017, fig. 5, pp. 20-21 (Gavin Brown's enterprise installation view illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    An impressive composition rendered with palpable dynamism and immediacy, Big Boy, 2010, belongs to one of Joe Bradley’s most coveted series, a collection of densely layered abstract paintings in which he re-introduced the medium of oil paint for the first time since his earlier modular work. While a number of sister works from the series were included in Bradley’s major mid-career retrospective at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, in 2017, Big Boy debuted the artist’s seminal solo exhibition Mouth and Foot Painting at Gavin Brown’s enterprise in 2011, marking the genesis of his commercial success on the heels of his breakthrough participation at the Whitney Biennial, New York, in 2010. The largest canvas Bradley had created at the time of its execution, Big Boy furthermore distinguishes itself within the series as the most explicit in its reference to the human figure.

    As abstract elements of bright, unmodulated colour and flurries of graffiti-like lines coalesce into figuration across the vast canvas, Bradley encourages viewers to intently peruse the painting and make sense of the large-scale doodles. At the centre of the composition, a large totemic stick figure comes to the fore, his outstretched arm recalling the hamburger-bearing mascot of the ‘Big Boy’ food chain, whilst simultaneously calling to mind Jean-Michel Basquiat’s imagistic abstraction, often dominated by the presence of charismatic - and frenetically minimal - silhouettes. Resisting confinement as an abstractionist, Bradley affirms that the figurative elements in his work enable the extraction of a narrative. ‘I like the idea of naming a painting, rather than titling a painting – naming a painting like you would name a child […] I had been thinking of them as having personality or hoping they would have personality. I liked the idea of a painting having a sort of ambiance, giving off a vibe. Like you could look at one out of the corner of your eye like you would a stranger in the room’ (Joe Bradley, quoted in Ross Simonini, ‘An Interview with Joe Bradley’, The Believer, 1 November 2012, online).

    Drawn to a mutable approach to art-making that recalls his artistic forebears Francis Picabia or Martin Kippenberger, Bradley famously eschews a singular style or subject matter - working in distinct, often concurrent, series that pivot back and forth between abstraction and figuration, with a sly nod to the eclectic history of 20th century painting. Reinterpreting the sense of monumentality employed by the Abstract Expressionists, Joe Bradley claimed that ‘With painting, I always get the feeling that you’re sort of entering into a shared space. There’s everyone who’s painted in the past, and everyone who is painting in the present’ (Joe Bradley, quoted in Laura Hoptman, ‘Joe Bradley’, Interview Magazine, June 2014, online). Big Boy encapsulates Bradley’s commitment to the history of abstraction, its weathered textures and bold lines paying homage to the legacies of such painters as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Philip Guston and Cy Twombly. And yet, as Bradley explained, while he does naturally absorb these art historical influences, ultimately ‘the idea is to sublimate that in the work and to come up with something that feels and looks like your own’ (Joe Bradley, quoted in Eric Troncy, ‘Joe Bradley - interview by Eric Troncy’, Frog Magazine, issue 14, online).

    Soaring to arresting heights, Big Boy furthermore commands the viewer’s gaze in a wholly immersive composition. ‘I often think of this relation to scale’, Bradley remarked, ‘the scale of a painting tells you where to stand. You’re looking at a Vermeer, you get as close as you can to it, and it’s a very cerebral kind of buzz. My canvases are more of a body buzz’ (Joe Bradley, quoted in ‘”There’s something suspicious about painting” – an interview with Joe Bradley’, Apollo Magazine, 25 October 2018, online). With its expressive blocks of yellow, pink, crimson, blue and black, the work vibrates with unmatched vigour, endowing the totemic stick-figure with increased formal energy. Marked with paint splatter, footprints and visible grid-like creases, Big Boy additionally acts as testament to Bradley’s technique of handling the unprimed canvas on the studio floor, utilised throughout his career.

Property from a Distinguished Los Angeles Collection

Ο ◆21

Big Boy

signed and dated '2010 Joe Bradley' on the overlap
oil, oilstick, grease and studio detritus on joined canvas
330.2 x 304.8 cm (130 x 120 in.)
Executed in 2010.

£300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for £399,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Senior Director
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


Rosanna Widén
Director, Senior Specialist
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019