Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Pistol that Whistles? - Mark Bradford at White Cube

13 Oct - 13 Nov 2010

For his first London solo exhibit, Mark Bradford takes inspiration from a phenomenon which has travelled to all major developed cities: urban flypostering, graffiti, remnants of advertising spaces as well as the democratic reclamation of street space. Ironically, Hoxton has grown up as an area largely due to the creative influences of subversive and promotional unofficial posters as well as the presence of graffiti. So whilst it used to be common to seeing ripped posters, the council has stamped this ‘illegal’ activity altogether and stamped the final breath out of the once trendy and exciting neighbourhood.

Mark Bradford has been one of a series of artists shown at White Cube, Hoxton, that deal with globalisation in one form or another. Franz Ackermann, several months ago, did it more explicitly, by defining himself as being directly influenced by mass consumerism and the powerfully distracting and often painfully conflicting messages of contemporary life. Whilst Bradford also seems to be influences by mass media, advertising and decaying artefacts these leave behind, we have to take it on trust that the materials such as poster paper from the streets and broadsheet are imbued with a history of their own.
However, unlike Ackermann who for argument’s sake experiences the world in all its digital and confusing glory and then tries to recreate for the viewer a visual expression from scratch that captures the feeling of contemporary living. Bradford does the complete opposite – the use of broadsheet newspages and poster paper as materials is just that they are materials, no different from paint. Whilst perhaps this is a hint at their disposable nature, all content is obliterated from the acid-free pages and Bradford projects onto it an abstract artistic vision.

In ‘Field of Miracles’, Bradford succeeds in condensing the often ugly and yet beautiful effects created by torn layers of poster paper that resemble the abstract beauty of the banal waste product of mass media and advertising.. Appearing to be somewhere between the grains of natural rock layers and concrete slabs of an artificial world, Bradford shows us the most unnatural settings can still resemble the beauty and randomness of nature. The works themselves are part crafted and part chance as the layers of paper are torn into patterns.

However, the quality of his other canvasses disappoints. Rather than conveying the dislocation and disjunction we are told he has tried to do, his use of the same rounded ‘Mark Bradford’ fonts is formulaic and often speaks with the same visual voice. A graphic designer might have understood better that fonts are far from simply decorative – they have the power to scream, shout and whisper lovingly to us. The disunion between posters on a single street is what creates the feelings of tension, disunion and dislocation.