Mark Bradford - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | Phillips

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  • A monumental example of Mark Bradford’s painterly adroitness, He Barked Just Like a Watchdog, 2011, is emblematic of the distinctive visual lexicon that has made the artist one of the leading voices of contemporary abstraction. Executed the year of Bradford’s major mid-career traveling retrospective, the work showcases his masterful oscillation between collage and décollage. Hand-drawn black and silver lines form a striking intersect with a kaleidoscopic range of painted and collaged fluorescent and flamingo pink, tan, neon orange, and teal elements, the physicality of which has been animated by a professional sander. Unfolding in front of us with energetic rhythms and swirling colors, the interplay of textures lend the work an exquisite tactility and vigor. These composite parts, echoing of the chapters of history, evoke the uncovering of hidden stories and hint at the complexity of the experiences and cultures that construct our shared narrative.


    Lee Krasner, Desert Moon, 1955. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image: © 2022 Museum Associates / LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Lee Krasner, Desert Moon, 1955, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image: © 2022 Museum Associates / LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    The gestural style and heroic scale of the present work are immediately redolent of the hallmarks of Abstract Expressionism, a legacy of American painting with which Bradford is indelibly in conversation. However, as he has pointed out, “abstraction doesn’t belong solely to the Western canon of art.”i The all-over composition of He Barked Just Like a Watch Dog, inspired by a recent trip the artist had taken to Morocco, is a reflection of Bradford’s engagement with abstraction’s global history. Taken aback by the ornamentation of Islamic design, he felt compelled to experiment with incorporating intricate patterns of intersecting lines into his paintings upon his return from North Africa. This motif dynamizes the top half of the canvas and evokes the geometric precision of Moorish mosaics, the various symmetries of which suggest the divine and infinity. “Islamic art is all abstract... It’s all done through abstraction,” Bradford articulated. “I feel the same way. I’m not going to depict horror by showing horror. You’ll get to it with that abstraction… It pulsates with whatever I want.”ii


    Tetouan in Northern Morocco. Image: Manuel Cohen / Scala, Florence / Art Resource, NY
    Tetouan in Northern Morocco. Image: Manuel Cohen / Scala, Florence / Art Resource, NY

    He Barked Just Like a Watch Dog is characteristic of what the artist has coined “social abstraction”: abstract compositions “with a social or political context clinging to the edges.”iii These frames of reference are manifested by the artist’s singular approach to the materiality of the present work, one that involved methods of both construction and deconstruction. Always searching for media beyond the confines of his studio, Bradford gathers discarded materials around his native South Central Los Angeles—a large and incredibly diverse region all too often defined by its stereotypical associations with violence, gang culture, and drug use. 


    These found objects, including the blue scraps of salvaged paper in He Barked Just Like a Watch Dog, are layered above and beneath coats of paint, abstracting their original function while retaining their reference to the urban environment. “I may pull the raw material from a very specific place, culturally from a particular place, but then I abstract it,” he illuminated. “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.”iv Between cycling of meticulous collaging, he approached the surface of the present work with an electric sander to expose the palimpsest of earlier layers. Scraping, sanding, ripping, gouging: the painting is an excavation of latent or obscured identities, perhaps indexing the collective writing and erasure of social histories.

    "It’s almost like a rhythm. I’m a builder and a demolisher. I put up so I can tear down... In archaeological terms, I excavate and I build at the same time."
    —Mark Bradford
    Though Bradford has not publicly discussed the sources behind his title for the present work, it can be speculated that it was in dialogue with the popular legends and children’s novels that his work was responding to at the time. Indeed, this title is an exact quote from Carlo Collodi’s iconic The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883): after the titular marionette was trapped trying to steal grapes from a farmer’s yard, he was tied up in a doghouse to keep watch over the chicken coop as punishment. When four trespassing weasels began to steal the chickens, Pinocchio locked them in the cage and “barked just like a watch dog” to alert the farmer, who rewarded him by setting him free.v



    The story of the character featured prominently in one of Bradford’s projects just a year before the execution of this work, reimagined as a 1970s soul singer named “Pinocchio J. P. Washington” for his multimedia installation Pinocchio is on Fire (2010). This work, along with another installation executed in 2012, Geppetto—titled after the father figure of the fable—allude to the patriarchal structures behind Pinocchio’s desire to become a “real boy.” While the precarity of these notions of manhood appear to be at the heart of Bradford’s preoccupation with children’s tales, He Barked Just Like a Watch Dog offers a more enigmatic meditation on gendered bodies and social modes: fluorescent pink, layered underneath scraps of blue, is restrained by bodily webs that bring to mind networks of arteries.

    "The tools of civilization, how we build and destroy ourselves, are the materials that I'm really interested in."
    —Mark Bradford
    Bradford has spent his career rendering social issues typically understood in figurative terms—racism, homophobia, masculinity—through the language of abstraction. In doing so, he undermines the very nature of documentary by challenging himself to answer: “How does one represent that without representing it?”vi Though his vigorous approach often arrives at truths with wider resonance, Bradford rarely intends to present an explicit argument. Instead, his greatest works, such as He Barked Just Like a Watch Dog, are incredibly personal portraits that reflect the artist’s way of navigating a world rife with complexity. “I’m like a modern-day flâneur. I like to walk through the city and find details and then abstract them and make them my own. I’m not speaking for a community or trying to make a sociopolitical point,” he elucidated. “At the end, it’s my mapping, my subjectivity.”vii


    i Mark Bradford, quoted in Anita Hill, “Interview: Mark Bradford: ‘Everybody should have a little protection, a little cover, a little bit of a net and society should give it to us,'” Artspace, August 12, 2020, online.
    ii Ibid.
    iii Mark Bradford, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, “What Else Can Art Do?,” The New Yorker, June 22, 2015, online.
    iv  Mark Bradford, quoted in Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, exh. cat., White Cube, London, 2013, p. 83.
    v  Carlo Collodi, trans. Walter S. Cramp, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Cambridge, 1904, p. 102.
    vi Mark Bradford, quoted in “L.A. Laid Bare,” Dateline Australia, June 30, 2011.
    vii Mark Bradford, quoted in “Market>Place,” PBS, September 2007, online.

    • Provenance

      White Cube, London
      Bert Kreuk, The Netherlands (acquired in 2011)
      White Cube, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014

    • Exhibited

      Gemeentemuseum den Haag, Grensverleggend — Transforming the Known: Collection Bert Kreuk, June 8–September 29, 2013, p. 29 (illustrated, p. 28)

    • Literature

      L.A. Laid Bare, SBS Australia, June 30, 2011, short film (installation view of the present work in progress with the artist in the artist's studio illustrated, 0:03-0:04; 3:05-3:09)

Property from an Exceptional Private Collection


He Barked Just Like a Watchdog

signed with the artist's initial, titled and dated "He Barked Just Like a Watchdog 2011 M" on the reverse
mixed media on canvas
102 3/8 x 143 1/8 in. (260 x 363.5 cm)
Executed in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for $4,870,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022