gallery crawl see more art

KQED e-Newsletters


Get regular updates on great programs and events

Please leave this field empty

More from KQED

Visual Arts

Mark Bradford at SFMOMA

Large Image

Mark Bradford, Method Man, 2004; the Speyer Family Collection; © Mark Bradford; photo: Bruce M. White

I once sat next to Mark Bradford at a dinner party after helping out with some Art:21 events at an educator conference where he was the keynote speaker. That dinner was one of my favorite moments spent with a famous artist, and I'll always remember the idea Mark and I came up with to build a "lofticle" -- a cubicle with a loft that would give worker bees extra space for napping, reading or thinking. I probably never forgot this idea because I spend a lot of time in a one-level cube imagining a ladder leading to somewhere more lofty. But it was also memorable because Mark Bradford was inspiring and kind, even to his handlers, despite his worldwide, art-star status.

At the conference, Bradford suggested radical ideas. Teachers lined up to hug him afterwards, and he later went on to write curriculum with The Getty and SFMOMA. One of his lesson plans involves writing down the lyrics to your favorite song, then cutting up and rearranging the words to convey a different meaning. This idea was influenced by his own practice, which involves lots of intricate cutting and reordering. A traveling retrospective of his work is currently on view at SFMOMA where you can see his paintings, sculptures, installations and films. He describes an early film making experience in this short video that I’ve watched many times. It represents one of the reasons why I adore Mark Bradford -- his abstract storytelling is top notch. And his stories are genuine, both verbally and visually.

The show is an expansive introduction to Bradford's oeuvre. Each piece represents a reflection of the artist's life and surroundings at the time it was made. His large-scale works are arguably collage, but he thinks of them as paintings, which makes sense when you see them in person. He works with found signage and other paper objects, using variations on (self-described) decoupage techniques to create massive, abstract works. Some pieces incorporate recognizable, time-specific snippets, such as neon bits of color from iPod billboard ads of the early 2000s. Bradford's art beautifully preserves contemporary culture, representing (sometimes literally) the signs of our times. He also uses merchant posters found on the streets of L.A., transforming them into art that speaks about commerce and social structures.

Some of the work involves serious sanding, layering, reducing and adding paper to create texture and dynamism. If you look closely and chronologically, you might notice when the artist moved from hand-sanding to power-sanding. While Bradford's work can be appreciated on any level, even at first glance, I recommend studying up. Watch the film about him on Art:21 and listen to SFMOMA's recent interviews with the artist where he talks about specific pieces, like a film of him swaggering down a street in slow motion -- it's a tribute to a character from the South Los Angeles neighborhood where he keeps a studio in the same building where his mother used to have a hair salon. He grew up working in the salon, painting signage, and later incorporating some of the materials (like the hair papers used for perms) into his work.

There is so much to appreciate about Mark Bradford that the exhibition continues across the street with another installation at YBCA. I'm headed there next and I know it will be impressive, because that's how Mark Bradford rolls.

Mark Bradford's work is on display at SFMOMA from February 18 - June 17, 2012. For more information, visit

More on Visual Arts

The Latest on KQED Arts

Theater Review | Apr 15, 2014

Doctor Faustus Gives Hamlet a Schooling in Witty 'Wittenberg'

Martin Luther, Hamlet and Doctor Faustus prove an irresistible combination for a college comedy. By Sam Hurwitt  

Multimedia | Apr 14, 2014

Here's to the Late Adopters

Sometimes it's OK to wait for the bugs to get worked out before jumping into new tech. By Emily Eifler  

Music | Apr 14, 2014

What Is Up With BottleRock 2014?

If I could use only one word to describe the 2014 edition of the Napa Valley wine, food and rock festival's eclectic rundown of artists (based on the opinions I've heard voiced and, to a lesser extent, my own) it would be: huh? By T.J. Mimbs  

Literature | Apr 13, 2014

Happy Birthday Thomas Jefferson: Q+A with Maira Kalman

Author and illustrator Maira Kalman latest book, Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything, is a whimsical and hypnotic look into one Founding Father's life and accomplishments. By Ingrid Rojas Contreras  

Performance | Apr 12, 2014

The Sean Keane Exit Interview

Last month, Sean Keane, one of San Francisco's top standup comedians, announced that he is moving to Los Angeles in May. Before letting him board that 'Greyhound of the Skies' flight to Bob Hope Airport, it seemed only fitting to subject him to that most ignominious of employment traditions: the exit interview. By Anthony Bedard  

Art & Design

Also on this week ...

The New Environmentalists: From Chicago to Karoo
KQED Celebrates the Earth

April 22 is Earth Day, but KQED is celebrating our planet all month long. Tune in for special programs, attend special events, and find more resources online.

View of a dry Mt. Diablo from Briones Regional Park in the East Bay. (Lauren Sommer/KQED)
Where's the Rain?

KQED covers news about California's drought, offers water-saving tips, and more.