surface skirmishes in oil on canvas

“Part of what I’m looking for is a surface quality, and that’s something that you can’t arrive at in a day or a week or a month. It has to feel like it has a sort of history and that it’s been through some skirmishes.”

Joe Bradley in conversation with the David Zwirner gallery, March 2024.

Joe Bradley’s debut exhibition with David Zwirner gallery marks a significant moment in his artistic trajectory. With a bold step forward from his previous works, Bradley presents a series of large-scale paintings that command attention with their imposing presence and intricate details.

Fortune was in my favor, as it was it was raining and the devils (I mean art world) left town to go to the Venice Biennial and take lots of selfies and drink too much… so I had Joe Bradley’s exhibition all to myself. I hate to admit it but I was filled with envy. I really wished I had made these paintings. At first glance it’s like a punch in the tit. It hurts! Envy left a bruise on my broken jealous heart, because his canvases are so VA VA VOOM! Some very sexy painting, lots of bold blocks of color, and gesture, a rough fuck-you kind of line gouged over the surfaces with a paint stick no doubt; no delicate brushwork here. Getting up close, because I want to see how he did that, I cackled because there was tape, and boogers, hair and dust, spit and sweat and general detritus from the studio. I could see that he had thrown everything at these paintings.

Joe Bradley Flat Earth, 2023-2024 Oil on canvas 91 1/8 x 116 1/8 inches (231.5 x 295 cm) Framed: 93 1/2 x 118 1/2 inches (237.5 x 301 cm)

The canvases are filled with vibrant colors, roughly applied, layered and built into sagging, undulating surfaces. Each painting is a composition of bold shapes and lines, creating a dynamic visual experience that drew me in. I couldn’t wait to get out of there because these paintings made me want to run back to my studio and paint! Oh the devil is in the details. Thanks Joe, for making my day.

Detail of Joe Bradley Flat Earth, 2023-2024 Oil on canvas 91 1/8 x 116 1/8 inches (231.5 x 295 cm) Framed: 93 1/2 x 118 1/2 inches (237.5 x 301 cm)

Gone are the days of Bradley’s ironic, anti-painting paintings. Instead, his new works exude a sense of self-awareness and depth, inviting viewers to explore abstraction anew. While maintaining his signature style, Bradley’s latest creations feel like a natural evolution, demonstrating a newfound confidence and maturity while still holding onto some twist and shout in his gestures.

One can’t help but notice the detritus of their making—the layers of paint, the clusters of lines over color, spattered with flecks of paint with excitement but they are not facile, there is evidence of an unabashed play with gestural abstraction, and that might make the cynical yawn, they can go hell, I love this stuff. It’s great! it’s so good. His paintings are all evidence of Bradley’s continuous process of experimentation and adaptation. Unlike his earlier works, which sometimes left viewers questioning their status as paintings (what ever) these pieces leave no doubt—they are undeniably the result of Bradley’s deliberate artistic chutzpah. No guts no glory.

Joe Bradley Angel’s Trumpet, 2023-2024 Oil on canvas 101 x 78 inches (256.5 x 198.1 cm) Framed: 103 1/2 x 80 3/8 inches (262.9 x 204.2 cm)

References to art history are subtly woven into the fabric of Bradley’s paintings. In some works, echoes of an unrestrained Joan Mitchel or a sober eyed Willem DeKooning can be discerned, and the comic dead pan line of Philip Guston all of it is part of a lineage that is unavoidable for painters painting today, and yet Bradley adds a depth and complexity to his overall compositions, making them his own, a very contemporary take on abstraction that transcends mere homage, infusing each piece with his unique perspective. A bit of a prankster; a glyph occasionally shows up, but it’s all the dirty dirty dirty painting that makes these things come alive.

Joe Bradley Nirguna, 2023-2024 Oil on canvas 84 1/4 x 103 1/2 inches (214 x 262.9 cm) Framed: 86 5/8 x 105 7/8 inches (220 x 268.9 cm)

The title of the exhibition, “Vom Abend,” is a poetic and peculiar choice. It may simply be German for the expression “From the evening”) which hints at the enduring path of experience that Bradley has embarked upon in his work. A journey of looking, thinking, and doing that is evident in each painting. It’s hard to be a painter, and to paint with gestural abstraction, and to do it in NYC, and under the spot light. I love that he does it. But the way he does it made me think of a different translation of the term “Abend” which is a technical term in computer programing which means “Abnormal End”, also known as a sudden or unexpected failure in an operating system, usually causing it to crash. Sorry I worked in technology for years to pay off that damn student loan to art school. But enough about me, the notion of abnormality in a program, a painting, a life; it seems even more poetic. As are Bradley’s paintings. Lovely, go see them before they are gone.

Joe Bradley: Vom Abend
David Zwirner
525 West 19th Street, New York, 10011, New York
April 11—May 18, 2024
Press Release

Joe Bradley Easy Death, 2023-2024 Oil on canvas 92 1/8 x 128 1/4 inches (234 x 325.8 cm) Framed: 94 5/8 x 130 1/2 inches (240.3 x 331.5 cm)
Joe Bradley Hash Eater, 2023-2024 Oil on canvas 83 3/8 x 110 inches (211.8 x 279.4 cm) Framed: 85 1/2 x 112 1/2 inches (217.2 x 285.8 cm)