The Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford’s solo exhibition inaugurates Hauser & Wirth’s new space in H Queen’s, the much-anticipated art building in downtown Hong Kong that was completed last year.
It’s unsurprising that Hauser & Wirth chose Bradford, who represented the United States at the 2017 Venice Biennale, to open their new 10,000-square-foot gallery. Last year, a triptych by the artist sold for $5 million at Art Basel Miami. And, since his 2015 exhibition at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai, his name has been on the radar of all major Asian collectors.
Bradford is best known for his multilayered abstract canvases that serve as windows onto the class, race and gender-based economies of urban society. Using layers of pasted material, sanded down to reveal juxtapositions of color and pattern, the grid like patterns of his rich topographical landscapes have been compared to the works of Mondrian. In 2015, he described his work to the New Yorker as abstract art “with a social or political context clinging to the edges.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1961 to a single mother, Bradford worked at his mother’s hair dressing salon before going to art school. When he discovered painting was another way to manifest his intuition for beauty, he was awarded, aged 30, a full scholarship to the California Institute of the Arts. Since then, he has been creating pieces at an impressive rate, inspired by the rapidly changing neighborhoods of his city and often drawing on historical parallels, such as the Tulsa race riots of 1921 and the Los Angeles race riots in 1992, such as in “Scorched Earth” (2006).
Quoting Michel Laguerre’s “The Informal City,” he said: “The informal arena provides a hidden space where one can stand to read a city as a social laboratory of everyday practice.” His studio is located close to where he grew up, in a southern Los Angeles neighborhood blighted in his youth by deindustrialization and the crack epidemic of the 1980s.
He often uses materials found around his studio, exploring the materiality of informal economies. His 2004 piece “Los Moscos” (The Flies), which uses a derogatory term for migrant laborers, was inspired by Hispanic immigrants waiting outside a Home Depot store. Bradford scoured the area, collecting hundreds of advertisements for lawyers, handbills, and other scraps, which he transformed into an aerial view of the city: an explosion of yellow on black, with thin radial veins. The piece is now owned by the Tate in London.
Materiality is the lens through which Bradford depicts the urban landscape, as well as the medium of his rebellion. “I built this vocabulary, using only paper,” he said in an interview with the New Yorker. “I liked the social fabric they represented.” Bradford is stubbornly loyal to his city, his neighborhood, and even to Home Depot, where he bought his first art supplies back when he couldn’t afford a $20 tube of paint. And although his pieces now sell for millions, he told the New Yorker: “If Home Depot doesn’t have it, Mark Bradford doesn’t need it.”
— This article appears in the April 2018 edition of Modern Painters