Abstract painter’s work joins with Still’s in Denver show

Mark Bradford makes commentary on issues through his art

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Noted contemporary abstract painter Mark Bradford’s large, striking mixed media paintings are presently exhibited at the Denver Art Museum in company with examples of Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still’s work. Both painters have chosen to use black liberally in their work and the exhibit, “Shade,” circulated by Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Gallery, and expanded here, is a collaboration between the DAM and the next-door Clyfford Still Museum.

Bradford, was born in Los Angeles in 1961, where he lives and works, following study at California Institute of Fine Arts in Valencia. Widely honored, he is a MacArthur Fellowship winner and will represent the United States at the 57th Annual Venice Bienniale with a major solo show in the U.S. Pavilion (May 13-Nov. 26.)

He was influenced by Still’s works. In museum materials, he is quoted after seeing a Still painting for the first time: “What caught my eye was the insistence of his paintings. His surfaces are more raw and immediate than other abstract expressionist paintings. His paintings are not just optical — they have a very physical presence.” He compared studio processes (Bradford tears found papers and uses layers with paint.) “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 tearing that you see in Still’s paintings, it’s a collision of colors. These aren’t smooth transitions.”

Bradford’s paintings include comment on class, culture, race and gender. The museums will further explore social activism and art through programming, to be announced.

For a third year, a contemporary artist, Bradford in 2017, was chosen to curate an exhibit from the collected works of Still. His selection of 15 works by Still, which prominently include black pigments, is exhibited in the CSM’s two largest galleries and a ticket to “Shade” includes visits to both museums.

“The title, `Shade,’ has rich implications such as to shelter from light, to be in a shadow or to add black to a hue to darken it,” said DAM contemporary art curator Rebecca Hart. “Both Clyfford Still and Mark Bradford have a unique relationship to black. At a time when other Abstract Expressionist artists had vibrant palettes, Still used black to force viewers out of their comfort zones. For Bradford, the choice isn’t neutral; it intentionally forces 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.”

As one enters the first floor Gallagher Family Gallery, one views “Realism,” a two-panel mixed media, textured work on canvas (108 ¼” X 168 ½”) which is in the Denver Art Museum collection. A look at the edges of Bradford’ works shows the layering and tearing involved. Other works follow, such as “Butch Queen” and “Mississippi Gottdam,” which introduces silver with other found paper layers. Still’s related works are woven into the exhibit.

At the rear of the gallery is an especially well-made video interview with the articulate Bradford, who says “`Shade’ is simply putting questions into the public domain.” He also commented that Still was a precursor to the civil rights movement.

Social activism and art will be explored in future programming by both museums.

If you go

“Shade” will be at the Denver Art Museum and Clyfford Still Museum through July 16, with one ticket valid for entrance to both. Denver Art Museum is between 12th and 14th Avenues the first block west of Broadway, with a parking garage on 12th immediately west of Broadway. The Clyfford Still Museum is directly west of the Hamilton Building, connected by a walkway, or is entered from Acoma Street. See denverartmuseum.org or clyffordstillmuseum.org.

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