London has a wealth of small, private galleries selling the work of the world’s most acclaimed artists which are free to visit. Of course, if you happen to be a billionaire, you can go and buy something nice for your castle, mansion or whatever, but for the rest of us, these galleries offer the chance to study amazing pictures and sculptures, close up, and without the crowds you get at large exhibitions.
It was in one such gallery that my mind was blown by artist Mark Bradford. An exhibition of his work called Cerberus is on at Hauser & Wirth in Central London. Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words, so it is no good me wittering on about the experience of standing in front of a huge canvas, how it sang to me it was so alive, you have to go and see one for yourself. The pictures here can’t do it justice, because the works are multi-layered, literally and figuratively, they have texture that cannot be shown on a small screen.
But I can talk about the great man himself. Unlike many of the people who can afford to buy his work, Bradford does not have a privileged background. He grew up in Los Angeles, an experience which feeds into his work as they relate to events and politics that have affected him personally and other people who are marginalised in society.
In this video Wild Wild West: A Beautiful Rant by Mark Bradford, Bradford says: “I was born on the fringe. I know where I come from, but I was only interested in where I was going.” It is thanks to people like Bradford, who are prepared to stand up and be counted, to use their creativity to communicate and shout about the world as it is, that other people can have their eyes opened.
His work may be abstract, but its message goes straight to your heart. Each painting is formed from many strata of paper which are manipulated in many ways so that each work is its own landscape. A map that has come to life. In his huge canvas called Cerberus, Bradford uses map-like symbols and spots of colour to create a kind of grid that is an interpretation of the Watts Rebellion riots, which took part in Los Angeles in August 1965 and lasted for over six days. You can see films of riots, you can watch news about riots, but this picture makes you feel something that newsreel footage leaves out.
It is inspiring to see creative work that elicits powerful feelings and also looks beautiful. If you have not yet seen any of Bradford’s work in a gallery, then I urge you to try. If you live in London, as well as Hauser & Wirth show (on until 21 December), you can see Bradford’s art at Tate Modern.