Mark Bradford: “Scorched Earth” at the Hammer Museum by Shana Nys Dambrot, Art Ltd.
Mark Bradford’s new mixed media paintings on canvas are affecting, operatic, richly textured works of gestural gravitas. Mostly black, red, and white with the occasional chromatic high note, each one vibrates with an insistent hum of lines, spirals, dots, spines, troughs, arteries, starbursts, and shards. Though raw canvas is frequently visible behind the fractal fray, the impression is one of all-over abstraction in which no space is negative, and most of the composition is sufficiently thick with collage and impasto as to approach bas relief.
Most are upwards of 10 feet, but this scale is not superfluous, it turns pictorial space into architectural space. The compositions and their veils and vectors move the viewer’s body as well as eyes around the room, demanding that one gets both as close as one is allowed (to absorb the galactic density of detail and optical variation that result from Bradford’s technique) and as far away as possible (to become oriented within the compositions’ emergent patterns and cartographic scope). Though avowedly non-figurative, the language of geography and geology is salient in describing the works’ mottled, slathered, palimpsestic surface treatments. The museum’s own literature offers “psychogeography,” and hints at a level of narrative content not conventionally ascribed to Abstract Expressionism, citing the work’s depiction of “emotional, social, and actual topography.”