Mark Bradford - Contemporary Evening Sale London Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sikkema Jenkins, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    An Opening on the Left, executed in 2010, is a stunning example from the oeuvre of Mark Bradford, an American who is named one of the top talents at the forefront of redefining the notion of painting today. By marrying high art with popular culture, Bradford creates large scale canvases that are true examples of Post-Modernism, in a different and more labour-intensive way than other artists like Wade Guyton who opted towards the process-based painting. Usually of monumental scale, the canvases are created with the use of paint and collage elements taken from everyday life: the found posters and billboards, hairdresser's permanent endpapers (he grew up in his mother’s hairdresser salon) - all traces of the city where he finds them - creating the urban map of his native Los Angeles. This results in a highly textured surface that is extremely gestural and abstract but that has an unbelievably utopian quality: “I wanted to take an actual moment in history and then abstract it and pull it apart and then put it back together again. The painting is like a puzzle.” (Christopher Bedford, Against Abstraction, in Mark Bradford,, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, 2010, p. 24).

    Bradford has emerged over the past decade as one of the most skilful and exciting artists of his generation, leading to his receipt of the MacArthur "genius" award in 2009 and a travelling mid-career retrospective the following year that was organised by Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio that travelled to Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Based in South Central Los Angeles, the artist brings the street art elements into his paintings through which he continues his investigation of class, race and gender in the United States. Wittily dubbed "if not the best painter working in America today then certainly the tallest" by Guy Trebay of the New York Times, Bradford creates a body of work that is less of a commentary on consumerism, but rather gives voice to the specific conditions that shape communities.

    In An Opening on the Left, Bradford masters his trademark additive and subtractive process of collage and decollage which allows him to create a grid-like composition that evokes the aerial view of Los Angeles, whose structural integrity is being challenged. The artist paints, bleaches, tears, sands and embellishes his materials that through improvisation and accident make up utopian abstractions that are not only formally inventive but that are also able to transmit the real sense of everyday life. The mesmerising quality is in abundance for the viewers to grasp. The use of bright colours on the multi-layered surface give a luminosity to the painting which exhales the raw energy and complex beauty. Through his paintings, Bradford conveys the collage-like way of Los Angeles itself, where growing up as an African-American and being part of the integral community he experienced firsthand the challenges of social integration, the pressing issue for a collage-like society not only locally but rather globally. In his painting, Bradford maps our culture of today, by showing its fragility and complexity: “Maps to me are such fragile systems, because at the moment of a war, at the moment of gentrification, they change. So they're the most inflexible, flexible thing I can think of. They imbue you with this security, and at the same time they're deeply, deeply flawed. They document the history of power; they document the history of wars. Maps document lots of lies... Maps to me are tricky and insidious, and they’ve always fascinated me” (T. Golden, Mark Bradford: The Other Side of Perfect, October 2006,

    Bradford's canvases evoke the masters of classical abstraction, in particular the works of Piet Mondrian and Jackson Pollock. However, here the abstraction is taken to another level through the use of the collage elements that are products of the mass culture, making his painting as ever socially grounded. The high art temple that painting has been for centuries is masterfully tweaked to incorporate the ever changing world: “Bradford sets out to represent and reflect on the conditions of the moment, making images and objects that better represent the era than any documentary photography.” (The Painting Factory: Abstraction after Warhol, exh. cat., The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 96). This ability to grasp and masterfully reflect the time we live in is what makes Bradford’s work so appealing.

  • Artist Biography

    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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An Opening On The Left

mixed media collage on canvas
121.9 x 152.4 cm (47 7/8 x 60 in.)
Initialled, titled and dated ‘“An Opening on the left” 2010 M’ on the reverse.

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £698,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Evening Sale

London Auction 2 July 2014 7pm