Canada is pleased to present Mother Paintings, Katherine Bradford’s third solo exhibition with the gallery.
In this new body of work, Bradford fuses inquisitive brushwork and a lushly evocative palette with psychological narratives. As the title implies, Bradford explores the idea of Mother as an archetype, a lived experience and state of mind. The paintings range from large to medium in format and are some of the most boldly felt of her career.
The figures that populate these paintings are painted economically and some nearly fill the entire canvas. The blocks of color that form the bodies feel like chunks of architecture or modernist scrims. Some embrace, others offer up their laps, and a few reach out a hand to comfort or calm. These gestures aren’t depicted as heroic; the bodies of the caregivers sometimes contort under the strain of caring for another. The complexities of tending to another person’s needs is, in Bradford’s formulation, a recipe for self-negation. In fact, the bodies often blend, making it hard to tell what belongs to who as boundaries dissolve and bodies morph. Bradford achieves this by stacking blocks of color, and using line to create the contour of breasts, faces or torsos.
Bradford never allows her subject matter to feel too heavy. She cuts the seriousness with her trademark wobbly sense of humor. When the figures get caught in absurd situations, they manage to retain personal dignity. She is interested in depicting a spectrum of characters: women wear men’s swimming costumes and beefy tycoons sport cocktail dresses. Flesh is rendered in strange colors: purple, green and pinks that seem either buoyantly festive or pointing to an unpleasant personality trait. The paintings are full of social interactions but maintain a propositional or abstract quality. The abstraction of the paintings carries social impulses and hints at intimate bonds. The scumbled paint and the layers of transparency require the viewer to see one thing through something else; it takes time to trace the layers of the painted experience. The effort is rewarded with insight into the act of painting and metaphors about life lived with others.
The paintings are luminous. Bradford often uses deep blues or a dark purple as an atmospheric hue, possibly referencing night or early morning. Bright colors seen through watery glazes suggest that the paintings are lit from within. The figures often seem to be emerging from or sinking into the murk. The pandemic that we are living through is our constant companion, in life and in these paintings. Memories of a pre-pandemic past haunt the painter and viewer; the close intimacy that Bradford depicts feels frightening or nostalgic after all the “social distance” we have built to keep ourselves safe. The power of the “Mother Paintings” is that they don't offer easy bromides about care or safety, instead they pose more nuanced questions about relationships and how people choose to be together or apart. The paintings don’t definitively say whether the sun is going up or down, but they do show we have no choice but to hang onto each other.
Katherine Bradford (b. 1942, NY, NY) lives and works in New York. She started painting at the age of 30 while living in Maine and was among a group of artists who moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the 1980’s. She exhibited in New York for many years before presenting Fear of Waves, her first solo exhibition with Canada, in 2016. Bradford has exhibited widely at institutions such as: MoMA P.S. 1; The Brooklyn Museum, NY; the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Bentonville, AR; the Tang Teaching Museum, Skidmore College, NY; and at the Ogden Museum in Prospect.4: the New Orleans Biennial. Her work is included in collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Menil Collection in Houston, TX, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, KS and the Portland Museum of Art, ME. Her work has been shown at commercial galleries including: Sperone Westwater and Pace Gallery in New York; Campoli Presti Gallery, London and Paris; Philipp Haverkampf Galerie, Berlin; and Adams and Ollman, Portland OR, among others. Bradford is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Joan Mitchell Grant. She has taught at institutions such as the Yale School of Art, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. A recent monograph, Katherine Bradford: Paintings, was published by Canada in 2018. In 2022, Bradford will be the subject of a touring survey show organized by the Portland Museum of Art, Maine.