Joe Bradley has been holding solo exhibitions in New York galleries since 2003. But his latest exhibition at Petzel – for the first time in six years – feels like the first show of the rest of his career.
His new paintings are powerfully colored works that strike a graceful balance between representation and abstraction. They may be the most traditional of Bradley’s career, but they’re also the most interesting.
Bradley devoted the first decade of his resume to what might be termed ironic, anti-picture paintings. They were post-conceptual and challenging: you had to decide if they qualify as pictures. The best of these bare minimum works were a series of enormous raw canvases with a single motif outlined with a black oil crayon. While monumental, they had the immediacy of doodles and were drawn all at once, with no adjustments, which was impressive.
A transitional phase followed, where Bradley began applying paint with a wide brush to the dirty canvases, whose footprints and paint droplets were part of the composition. These were rough and finely sized. But somewhere between Julian Schnabel and Abstract Expressionism, the game of intent against accident was familiar.
It’s no coincidence, Bradley’s trajectory has accelerated: After three solos in 2011, he left Canada for Gavin Brown’s venture and three others. In 2016, she attended Gagosian, a success summit not known for her careful handling of young artists. After three shows in New York and elsewhere, he left in 2021.
Now Bradley just paints, self-aware, funny but ironic. It covers most of the canvas, working with a narrower brush that eliminates large movements and pulls you closer to the surface. Colors are of equal temperature; white lines run through them forming shapes, dividing the areas into broad patchworks with mountain-like profiles or suggestions of flat areas. This happens most poetically in “Jubilee,” where three fields of different greenery and two mountains sway between flat and deep.
Now there are many arrangements; often brushes one color on top of another or adds clusters of dots to this or that shape. There is a marked disinterest in closing anything; brief glimpses of what’s underneath are actively available.
Art history is implicitly evoked. Toward the center of “Fool’s Errand”, a dark blue rectangle illuminated by some white dots floats above a red field; This is a Monet in a box.
The center of the “cameo” is a clash of bright yellow, jags and dots in red and two black lines. The battlefield is a pair of large overlapping crosses that are black and red, reinforced versions of those by Russian Constructivist Kazimir Malevich. Elsewhere, motifs seem to have just happened in the process, such as the suggestion of a laurel-covered brown face and pizza slice in “Outline.”
The title of this show is “Bhoga Marga”, which Bradley translates from Sanskrit as “path of enduring experience”. The question that hovers over us is “Is this a painting?” not. but “How was this painting made?” The answer is obvious: the artist has made this up, point by point, as he moves through a continuous cycle of looking, thinking (or feeling), and doing. You just need open eyes to follow their steps.
Joe BradleyBhoga Marga
through April 30 at Petzel, 456 West 18th Street, Manhattan; (212) 680-9467, petzel.com.