Arms and the Sea

Canada is excited to announce Arms and the Sea, Katherine Bradford’s fifth one-person exhibition with the gallery. This new series extends and deepens Bradford’s signature figurative paintings by employing fields of dark smoldering color and allegorical images of people in odd and disquieting situations. Bradford’s figures hover in spaces either intimate or interstellar, becoming propositional actors in raw and lyrical spectacles.

Images of frolicsome people splashing in the ocean or soaking in swimming pools have given way to darker and more charged spaces. Nobody needs to be reminded that the world has changed in the ten years since Bradford first used swimmers as her unifying motif. The dark candor of these new works is an acknowledgment of this fact. Deep saturated colors are activated by layers of brushstrokes and her unmistakable drawing style. These swimmers seem to be enveloped by the night sky or suspended in fathomless pools, suggesting a state between heaven and earth, or night and day.

The paintings also feature houses, specifically Georgian style houses of 18th century New England, with stout chimneys and stacks of neatly aligned windows. They have a ghostly quality, seeming to float freely. The painting Under My House has a shimmering white facade set against a sky rendered in deep blue and purple. Below or under the house is a facedown figure, suggesting a burial or perhaps someone floating in a pond at night. Houses paired with figures recall Louise Bourgeois’ Femme Maison series, which feature female nudes morphing into architecture and furniture. Like Bourgeois, Bradford finds poetry in exposing the strange tensions of living with society’s relentless drive to shape and undermine individuality. And, like Bourgeois, Bradford finds pleasure in portraying the dichotomy between body and spirit, finding humor and pathos in those who push against boundaries by asserting their inner lives in absurd and mysterious ways.

Walking this fine line requires Bradford to find new ways of painting. The blocks of color and the drawn contours of her figures don’t always cooperate. There is purposeful tension in the way Bradford’s painting language breaks down, only to declare itself in new ways throughout the show. The expanses of Rothko-like color stain rather than describe, as in Carry Painting, Wounded, in which three dream-like figures either stand against, dangle over, or are subsumed by a watery horizon of port wine red, purple and yellow. Despite the darkness, flashes of light emerge from beneath the scumbled surfaces.

Bradford’s commitment to exploring ambiguity keeps her from falling into the trap of virtuosity. She is too smart and experienced to repeat herself, knowing that certainty deprives the process of the essential spark of discovery. Her insistence on the hard-won acknowledgement that painting is self-humbling, a situation she has grown comfortable with, grants her access to mystery. To see painting as a source of insight into a world beyond the limits of language is central to Bradford’s project.

Katherine Bradford (b. 1942) was born in New York and lives and works in New York and Maine. After marrying, having children, and performing the duties of a politician’s wife, Bradford decamped to New York to pursue a career as an artist in her late 30s and earned an MFA when she was in her mid 40s. Her work has been exhibited at MoMA PS1, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Portland Museum of Art, Maine; Frye Art Museum, Seattle; Kunstmuseum Schloss Derneburg, Germany; the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; Addison Gallery of American Art, Massachusetts; Weatherspoon Gallery, North Carolina; and University of the Arts, Philadelphia, among others. Her work is held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Dallas Museum of Art, Texas; the Menil Collection, Houston; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; Aïshti Foundation, Beirut, Lebanon; Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, Paris, France, and Xiao Museum of Contemporary Art, Rizhao, China, among others. She has received an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She earned her BA from Bryn Mawr College in 1964 and MFA from SUNY Purchase in 1988.