Abstract painting in ash, sepia, gray, golden yellow, matte white, black, and tan called Realness by Mark Bradford

Mark Bradford's Realness

On View in The Light Show through May 3, 2020

Mark Bradford creates wall-sized collages and installations that inspire wonder with intricately detailed canvases in response to impromptu networks—underground economies, marginalized communities, and abandoned urban buildings.

Using scavenged materials or goods purchased at home improvement stores, Bradford cobbles together layers of papers and detritus before digging into the dense surface with a knife and sander. The painterly structures that emerge appear to sprawl and swirl across the picture plane, reminiscent of the social unrest that fuels Bradford's exploration of the world through abstract paintings.

Realness (2016) is part of a series that Bradford made in dialogue with the creative practice of Clyfford Still. Bradford recalls seeing a Still painting for the first time: "What caught my eye was the insistence of his paintings. His surfaces were rawer and more immediate than other abstract expressionist paintings. His paintings are not just optical-they have a very physical presence."

When comparing his studio process with Still's, Bradford said, "My paintings are made up of tearing. To me it represents a process that is more of a reality than laying down a perfect line of paint. It's raw and violent but it still comes together. And it's not just a tearing that you see in Still's paintings, it's a collision of colors. There aren't smooth transitions."

Bradford long has been fascinated by Clyfford Still's extensive use of black as a signature component of his work. Realness is part of a new body of artworks that were made to explore Still's frequent use of black and evocative statements about the color.

At a time when other abstract expressionist painters had vibrant palettes, Still used black to force viewers out of their comfort zones. For Bradford, the choice of black isn't neutral; it intentionally challenges us to confront conventional notions of race. Each viewer will interpret the use of black differently, hopefully evoking emotions that connect them to the works on view.

Bradford was honored in 2014 with the U.S. Department of State's Medal of Arts and represented the United States at the 2017 Venice Biennale. He was recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship Award in 2006 and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award in 2003. His work is broadly collected by major international museums and prestigious private collections.

Image credit: Mark Bradford (American, b. 1961), Realness, 2016. Mixed media on canvas, 108 1/8 x 168 1/2 in. Purchased with funds from anonymous donors; funds from Vicki and Kent Logan by exchange; Baryn, Daniel and Jonathan Futa; Craig Ponzio; Ralph L. and Florence R. Burgess Trust; DAM Contemporaries; Volunteer Endowment Fund; Suzanne Farver and Clint Van Zee; Andrea and William Hankinson; Amy Harmon; Arlene and Barry Hirschfeld; Lu and Chris Law; Sharon and J. Landis Martin; Tina Patterson and Bill Cottingham; Amanda J. Precourt; Judy and Ken Robins; Annalee and Wagner Schorr; Ellen and Morris Susman; Tina Walls; and Margaret and Glen Wood), (Temporary Loan, 11/28/2016, Purchased with funds from anonymous donors, Vicki and Kent Logan, Baryn, Daniel and Jonathan Futa, Craig Ponzio, Ralph L. and Florence R. Burgess Trust, DAM Contemporaries, Suzanne Farver and Clint Van Zee, Andrea and William Hankinson, Amy Harmon, Arlene and Barry Hirschfeld, Lu and Chris Law, Sharon and J. Landis Martin, Tina Patterson and Bill Cottingham, Amanda J. Precourt, Judy and Ken Robins, Annalee and Wagner Schorr, Ellen and Morris Susman, Tina Walls, and funds from various donors by exchange, 2017.29A-B. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth © Mark Bradford

Rebecca Hart is the Vicki and Kent Logan Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.