Joe Bradley: Canada

By Stillman, Nick | Artforum International, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Joe Bradley: Canada


Stillman, Nick, Artforum International


There has never been much evidence of work in Joe Bradley's art, and therein resides much of its signification. The individual units of Bradley's paintings have always been literally blank and, more significantly, militantly haphazard. With his works' scabrous, cheap surfaces; his "casualness" concerning proper leveling and hanging; and his ambivalent (if not antagonistic) attitude toward the conventionally stretched canvas, Bradley falls somewhere between a heroic practitioner of "grunge art" and a loafer.

His breakout body of work consisted of pieces he has called "guys": several rectangular monochromes of various sizes hung as a single unit (though often with a furtive sliver separating them) in the guise of extremely simplified, pixilated, sometimes deformed, well, guys. These could occasionally be found commingling on the wall with single-panel monochromes--Bradley has a taste for primaries and brown--or, at his most evocatively deflated, lurking on the ground like forlornly strayed appendages. The guys eventually morphed into totemic shapes: not quite David Novros's abstract forms; more like crosses and strangely indeterminate symbols. Suddenly, Bradley's works seemed to speak in hushed tones and took on a context of spiritual elevation. Enhanced by their rather large size, the abstractions began to read as icons, the guys as gods.

In his recent exhibition at Canada, Bradley debuted an entirely new body of work--the "Schmagoo Paintings," schmagoo being' 50s slang for heroin. The "paintings" consist of white, unprimed, clearly soiled canvases, most of them baggily stretched, with all of their sundry imperfections (invasive paint splatters, unsightly folds) enhanced by the spartan compositions. Startlingly enough, imagery, sketchily rendered in grease pencil, appears: for example, the number 23; a clumsy cross; a horizontal stick figure; an awkward sketch of the Superman insignia; and a horizontal line situated on a vertical canvas, wryly suggesting a stonily neutral mouth lacking a face. …

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