All the way to California: Mark Bradford and Larry Bell

[Originally published in 2014]

Mark Bradford, Dusty Knees (2013)
Mark Bradford, Dusty Knees (2013)

Mark Bradford’s works are huge. A single canvas in exhibition at White Cube Gallery has 5/16 x 145 ¼ inches, or 272 x 369 cm. Fifteen years after his first major solo show, Bradford brings to London the finest of his recent production. We have here colorful and powerful paintings with elaborated titles, such as “Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank”, this one gives the show its title. This piece of text comes from President Eisenhower’s memoir, in the context of the creation of the US Highways system. These roads, according to the artist, impacted a lot in the life of some communities, including his own in South Los Angeles.

Mark Bradford - Across 110th st.
Mark Bradford – Across 110th st.

The literary tone with which Bradford frames his work suggests concerns that appear as big as his paintings are. Through art, Bradford debates with the many layers of paint he creates, which forge a vast topography comprising making that his works have different gradients, change according our eyes go through it. Serene chaos of colors and tones as in a Californian desert, wreaking havoc to any other artwork that tries to rest on the side. After this tension that marks the enormous amount of paint and effort that involves his process, Bradford’s work reach an ideal of harmony and peace which must be observed from a certain distance.

The different layers of expression through his dramatic painting leaves no room for any other kind of communication except that of its colors and effects. I believe that’s the reason why the artist refers to particular works in such generic way, such as “The Blue Piece”, or “The Black and Red” one. Instead of full conceptual, Bradford does not seem interested for any notion of presentation of trick for his work out of what lie inside the painting. Many pieces hide the laborious process that leads Bradford’s work to such fine final cut. As a “scrapped Pollock”, his technique carries a little of the old action painting, but with new features. The use of a broom to get some of his illusionary effects with paint is a striking example.

Setting production details apart, there’s more than names, chaos, and gigantic spectacle in Bradford. In another room, “Receive Calls on Your Cellphone from Jail” invites a dense and certainly mysterious incursion an enormous painting/installation. Playing with the gallery high ceilings, the set of separate canvas form a kind of continent of black and white abstract shapes, filled in with small letters and numbers, making visitors look even tinier and powerlessness. In this hanged “land art”, spending some minutes going through the surface of repetitive signs in black and white seems like having a panoramic flight over a plantation land, where the wilderness shocks more than the geographic splendid, a metaphor to one’s reaction to the American old and contemporary divides.

Playing with illusions

Larry Bell
Larry Bell

Another warm blow from the West Coast comes with Larry Bell. Member of the Light and Space, a group of artists that in the past investigated visual perceptual effects in art, Bell masters photography uses of cool tones and keen reflections. His research involves the appropriation of papers, glasses, and vapor-coated printings, to quote some of them.

In sculpture, Bell practices a tender tridimensionality. Confronting daguerreotype printings in glass cubes, he plays with the internal and external effects, creating floating objects with elegance. An illusion manufacturer, Bell was contemporary of other 1970s minimalist artists, people like Craig Kaufmann and Robert Irwin, both keen artists of the light, who have played along with it very nicely, always avoiding excess and spectacle.

“Mirage Collage and Light Knots” shows very appropriately the distinct both sides of Larry Bell. A fine taylor of images and effects, who does not show up that often in the overcrowded art circuit. Most of his productions figure in important museums of the US, but he is barely found in other markets.

Mark Bradford and Larry Bell are in White Cube Gallery by 12 January 2014.