Abstract painting in ash, sepia, gray, golden yellow, matte white, black, and tan called Realness by Mark Bradford

Mark Bradford's Realness

Mark Bradford creates wall-sized collages and installations that inspire wonder with intricately detailed canvases in response to impromptu networks—underground economies, marginalized communities, and abandoned urban buildings.

Using scavenged materials or goods purchased at home improvement stores, Bradford cobbles together layers of papers and detritus before digging into the dense surface with a knife and sander. The painterly structures that emerge appear to sprawl and swirl across the picture plane, reminiscent of the social unrest that fuels Bradford's exploration of the world through abstract paintings.

Realness (2016) is part of a series that Bradford made in dialogue with the creative practice of Clyfford Still. Bradford recalls seeing a Still painting for the first time: "What caught my eye was the insistence of his paintings. His surfaces were rawer and more immediate than other abstract expressionist paintings. His paintings are not just optical-they have a very physical presence."

When comparing his studio process with Still's, Bradford said, "My paintings are made up of tearing. To me it represents a process that is more of a reality than laying down a perfect line of paint. It's raw and violent but it still comes together. And it's not just a tearing that you see in Still's paintings, it's a collision of colors. There aren't smooth transitions."

Bradford long has been fascinated by Clyfford Still's extensive use of black as a signature component of his work. Realness is part of a new body of artworks that were made to explore Still's frequent use of black and evocative statements about the color.

At a time when other abstract expressionist painters had vibrant palettes, Still used black to force viewers out of their comfort zones. For Bradford, the choice of black isn't neutral; it intentionally challenges us to confront conventional notions of race. Each viewer will interpret the use of black differently, hopefully evoking emotions that connect them to the works on view.

Bradford was honored in 2014 with the U.S. Department of State's Medal of Arts and represented the United States at the 2017 Venice Biennale. He was recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship Award in 2006 and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award in 2003. His work is broadly collected by major international museums and prestigious private collections.