Monday, December 26, 2011

Paige Bradley, "Expansion"

To make it these days, an artist needs a gimmick. I was perusing a list of the "Breakthrough Artists" of 2011 and noticed that most of them have a twist to their work that you can explain in a single sentence: the painter who doesn't use brushes, the "book surgeon" who carves medical textbooks, the pumpkin carver, the guy who puts his sculptures on top of his paintings, the guy who makes portraits with screws.

The one work in the series that really grabbed me was the one I illustrate here, "Expansion" by Paige Bradley. She explains its origin:
I conceived of this piece when I first moved to Manhattan [in 2004]. I was a bit startled by the power of the curators and the critics and how they all had an anti-figure slant on what they deemed show-worthy. So many of these people felt like everything figurative had already been done, and real art was about being a 'Visionary' rather than just showing ability, accuracy or general talent. Thus, the figure had generally disappeared from galleries, museums, important collections, art fairs and other shows. The few of us that were left, had no place to exhibit and our voice was not being heard. Many figurative sculptors started teaching, as though that was all they could do.

If I wanted to stay in the fine art field, I knew I had to join my contemporaries and make 'contemporary' art. I knew that it was time to let go of all the finely-tuned skills I had acquired over the years, and just trust in the process of making art. The art world was telling me I had to break down my foundation, let my walls crumble, expose myself completely, and from there I will find the true essence of what I needed to say.

So, literally, I took a perfectly good wax sculpture - a piece I had sculpted with precision over several months - an image of a woman meditating in the lotus position, and just dropped it on the floor. I destroyed what I made. I was letting it all go. It was scary. It shattered into so many pieces. My first feeling was, 'What have I done!?!' Then, I trusted it would all come together like I envisioned.

We cast all the pieces in bronze and assembled the pieces so they floated apart from one another. Then I brought in a lighting specialist and we built a crazy lighting system to make it glow from within. It turned out even better than I thought. And the best is that the image of Expansion means so much to so many who see it. I get letters every day! I feel like I really did my job successfully!
So you may be the best stone carver or the best painter in the world, but you can't be a breakthrough artist until you find your cool gimmick. And note that although this piece was completed in 2004, it just landed Bradley on a list of breakthrough artists this year. Sometimes breaking through is a very long and slow process.

As a bonus, another work of Bradley's, Soaring, from her web site.

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