Conjuring something over time
Thinking, Oh, I’d like to draw a pony here, and just going for it
For years, every time Joe Bradley made a show of new paintings, they appeared to be the work of a new artist. When he showed his stacks of colorful, modular panels, they suggested affable robots and regal sailboats and the whole lineage of geometric, monochromatic painting. Later, he made a group of “schmagoo” paintings—big canvases with single, crude grease-pencil drawings of the most dumbed-down icons—a fish, a cross, a Superman logo, a stick figure—completed in what appeared to be a matter of seconds. Other shows have included screen prints, doodles on scrap paper, spartan collages, and blank tan canvases with painted frames.
Recently, through hopscotch experimentation, Bradley has settled into a more consistent style of abstract-figurative painting. Using oil-paint sticks, he draws on raw canvas with the abandon of a feisty child searching for a subject. Intermittently, he’ll drop the half-finished pieces onto the floor and let them roll around until they accrete a patina of “shmutz,” as he calls it. Sometimes he’ll stitch together multiple in-progress canvases in an effort to further “glitch” whatever techniques he accidentally acquires. In this way, he’s become undeniably skilled at making the unskilled mark, and the results are transcendent: standing in front of his new work stirs up a visual epiphany of lowbrow wisdom.
For this interview, I visited Bradley twice: once at his old studio in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, and later at his current, exponentially larger space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The new studio has allowed his paintings to expand in size, and the entire multiroom complex was covered—floors and walls—with drawings and paintings, near ready to be shipped off for a European show. As we spoke, we flipped through his piles of art books and Bradley smoked more cigarettes than I could count. A few days later, I ran into him in my neighborhood, where his boy, Basil, was buzzing around the block, and we discovered that we live only a few feet from each other. The below transcription captures the beginning of the conversation that now continues, every so often, on the sidewalk in front of our homes.
THE BELIEVER: When you make art now, does it feel like it did when you were drawing as a kid?
JOE BRADLEY: No. When you’re a kid it just comes naturally. It’s just for fun. As an adult it’s just, y’know, more involved. I have adult responsibilities. You read the paper, and all this kind of shit, and it ends up making it a dire situation. It’s not just play.