Mark Bradford: Contemporary Collage Artist

Mark Bradford, Ridin’ Dirty

Recently I visited the Studio Museum in Harlem at 144 West 125 Street, NYC, hoping to see Mark Bradford’s super sized abstract collages. I was sorely disappointed because I saw really small collages, each a letter from A to Z, installed horizontally in the gallery. The exhibition is titled ALPHABET (November 11, 2010 – March 13, 2011).

The Museum produced a very handsome 4-color exhibition folder: A is for Alphabet. A is also for Angelenos. Mark Bradford is an Angeleno, born and raised and still living in Los Angeles, CA.

He calls  himself a painter, but he rarely uses paint. Paper is his media.

He works without prepared drawings. He layers papers, then tears away and sands away his surfaces, building up and tearing down.

The colors in his palette are the colors in the scavenged papers he finds on the streets, on signposts and mom & pop shop windows in his South Los Angeles neighborhood.

Bradford’s  process is collage/decollage –  it is constructive and also deconstructive.

He says he creates maps of the imagination.

The image above, part of his Merchant Posters series, is a detail of a large work titled “Ridin’ Dirty” (2006). It’s mixed media collage, in 78 parts, 109 x 336 inches combined.

If you like text and collage, topography, texture and layers, these are amazing works. The Museum bookstore sells a very handsome exhibition catalog titled Mark Bradford: Merchant Posters, with 97 color reproductions. You can also get the book online.

Mark Bradford, Untitled Collage

The image above is from the catalog and is Untitled (2007), mixed media collage, 19×22 inches.

In Mark Bradford: Merchant Posters, in the introductory essay, “Border Crossings,” Ernest Hardy wrote:

“To create his Merchant Posters, Mark canvasses Los Angeles, specifically the once-White-Only-then-primarily-Negro-now-equally-Latino part of South Los Angeles (formerly and infamously known as South Central) in which he works and still lives. It’s where he harvests the hand-made advertising signs that he finds on telephone poles, on the fences and wood barricades that block off construction sites, and in the windows of mom & pop stores…

…we see flux. It’s the dynamic of static vs. fluid (old ways of existing vs. emerging survival tactics; a once largely mono-race space absorbing new cultures and languages, trying to make sense of it all) unfolding in his own neighborhood, where years of political indifference and corruption are being jiggled by longstanding economic hardship, forces of gentrification, and the presence of immigrants from throughout Latin America who are adding new contours. The posters force us to pause and ponder…”

Bradford was born in Los Angeles, CA in 1961. He attended and received his BFA (1995) and MFA (1997) from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). He still lives and works in Los Angeles. In 2009 he was awarded the MacArthur Genius Award.

Mark Bradford, Orbit

The image above, titled “Orbit” (2007) is mixed media collage, 72×84 inches.


In his early abstract paintings, Mark Bradford used permanent-wave end papers, hair dye and foil, supplies from a hair dressing salon. The collages were covered with rectangular papers from end to end in a linear grid (think Agnes Martin and Ellen Gallagher).

He works in a studio in the same building that was his mother’s beauty salon.

The first major survey of Bradford’s work, including his large map-like collages, was organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH, in conjunction with his selection in fall 2009 for the Center’s Residency Award in visual arts. The exhibition is currently installed at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA (it closes March 13), and travels to the Museum of Contemporary art in Chicago, IL (summer 2011), continues to the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX and concludes at The San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA.

Check out Bradford’s work online. The presentation, organized by the Wexner Center says you can explore 4 different ways to get closer to the work, the artist and his process.

At the site you’ll Learn about “Duality” – the different layers – formal and social – that make up a single work of art – and you’ll see Bradford and hear two voices simultaneously – the presentation is so cool.

Mark Bradford, Method Man

There’s a soundtrack behind the image and text for “Method Man” (2004) 125 x 125 inches, seen above. Media is mixed, including billboard papers, photomechanical reproductioins, carbon paper, acrylic gel medium, bleach and more (private collection).


On-line shows are getting better all the time, but there is no comparison to seeing the work in person. I can’t get to Boston in time to see the show that closes March 13. I think I have to plan a trip to Chicago or Dallas to see the works with my own eyes.

Please add your comments below and let me know what you think of this artist’s work and the on-line exhibition.

2 thoughts on “Mark Bradford: Contemporary Collage Artist

  1. We are sorry you were disappointed in the size of the works. We are thrilled to have this unique work on view, and hope you enjoyed your visit nevertheless.
    The Studio Museum in Harlem

    1. Thank you for your comments. I really enjoyed my visit to the Studio Museum. I was with two other artists and we thought the installation of 3 current exhibitions (including ALPHABET) was very interesting. I loved everything on the lower level. Will you display the Mark Bradford work (I believe) is in the Museum collection?

      Best regards,

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