‘It’s easy to see Basquiat, Guston and cave painting in [Bradley’s] messy, bold lines and weathered textures. In these large abstractions, scribbled-looking passages in bright colors are set against areas of canvas marked only with dirt … The canvases are painted on both sides, so that faint areas of flat color, visible from the back, are in dialogue with heavily painted areas on the front, which often include contrasting colors laid over each other. The result is real visual electricity’ (B. Boucher, ‘Joe Bradley,’ Art in America, 25 March 2011).
Seemingly minimal at first glance, Joe Bradley’s Untitled from 2010 steadily reveals the artist’s dynamic impulse for visceral and professedly primordial mark making. A panoply of texture, Untitled expresses the artist’s concern not only for what is readily visible on the surface of the canvas but also that which is buried beneath coats of paint or vestiges of what may lay on the reverse of the canvas. Indeed, as with much of Bradley’s abstract works, its resonating complexity invites extended and considered viewing. As art critic and journalist Brian Boucher has said of Bradley’s paintings, ‘It’s easy to see Basquiat, Guston and cave painting in their messy, bold lines and weathered textures. In these large abstractions, scribbled-looking passages in bright colors are set against areas of canvas marked only with dirt.… The canvases are painted on both sides, so that faint areas of flat color, visible from the back, are in dialogue with heavily painted areas on the front, which often include contrasting colors laid over each other. The result is real visual electricity’ (B. Boucher, ‘Joe Bradley,’ in Art in America, 25 March 2011).
Seeking to expose the crude materiality of his resources, Bradley approaches painting in a process driven, almost performative, manner. Unceremoniously moving his canvas from floor to wall while employing a vast array of brushwork, ranging from grand gestures to elegant automatic scrawls, Bradley’s practice evokes a visual compilation of Jackson Pollock’s famed floor-bound dance, Franz Kline’s heroic sweeps and Cy Twombly’s habitual mark making. ‘There’s a long period of just groping around,’ he explains. ‘I usually have some kind of source material to work off of—a drawing or a found image—but this ends up getting buried in the process. Most of the painting happens on the floor, then I’ll pin them up periodically to see what they look like on the wall. I work on both sides of the painting too. If one side starts to feel unmanageable, I’ll turn it over and screw around with the other side. That was something that just happened out of being a frugal guy, I guess. But then, because I am working on unprepared canvas, I get this bleed through. The oil paint will bleed through to the other side, so I get this sort of incidental mark’ (J. Bradley, quoted in interview with R. Simonini, ‘Joe Bradley’, Believer, July 2012, p. 65).
Armed with an arsenal of various painterly techniques, Bradley’s compositions poetically tell the story of their own making. Executed on unprimed canvas, spread imperfectly across a simple stretcher frame, Bradley emphasizes the creases and warps on the surface of the canvas that most painters seek to eliminate with numerous coats of gesso and meticulous stretching. Stating of his basic support, ‘I like the way it looks and it feels more like drawing to me. The raw canvas looks like paper to me. Like newsprint. With primed, gessoed canvas I feel compelled to fill the whole thing in. You lose some of the drawing’ (J. Bradley, quoted in interview with R. Simonini, ‘Joe Bradley’, Believer, July 2012, p. 67). Yet, among closer inspection a palimpsest of tangible imperfections, which are as important to the artist as the canvas and paint themselves, emerge. With shoe prints crisscrossing the surface of his canvases, as well as particles of dust and detritus from the artist’s studio floor, this layer of ‘schmutz’, as the artist often refers to it, further imbues the work with its own sense of lowbrow wisdom. Just as he values the importance of creating without a plan, Bradley equally encourages his viewers to discover their own meanings within his work. ‘I don’t like to hear people’s elaborate excuses for making art, so I don’t try to make any myself ... there’s no way of telling what people think or what’s coming across’ (J. Bradley, quoted in S. LaCava, ‘Studio Visit: Joe Bradley’, The Paris Review, February 2011, reproduced at http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/02/22/joe-bradley/ [accessed 25 May 2015]). His attitude is both aloof and unpretentious, allowing one to react to his canvases as naturally and instinctually as the process of their creation.