Begin/Again: Marking Black Memories

Visitor Reflections | Mark Bradford

Jeannie Denholm, Owner of SCAPE Gallery and friend/advisor of Maggi Owens, founder of the Escalette Collection of Art 

Maggi Owens, founding Director for Chapman University’s art collection, had a discerning eye for contemporary art and an unwavering commitment to see this collection emerge as one of Orange County’s premier on-campus art collections. 

Many fond memories come to mind of gallery hopping around LA together and our 3-day “art binge” weekends that we would embark upon;  squeezing in every art fair we could each year.  We shared a lot of laughter as well as in-depth conversations about collecting art and what defines a “good collection”. From the onset it was important to Maggi to exhibit and include art that was relevant to Southern California. She sought out work that was forging new territory, addressing conversations pertinent to the times, and offering insight into LA’s diverse, urban culture. It was a great honor to be a part of Maggi’s art advisory board in these early collection development years.

It was during these formidable years that we discovered Mark Bradford’s work together.  Known for his grid-like abstract painting combining collage with paint, his early work included the use of permanent-wave end papers, foil and dye inspired by the materials of his mother’s hair salon located in South Central LA, where the artist created signs for the salon and at one time worked as a hairdresser. These prints stem from that early period of Mark Bradford’s career.   We were mutually drawn to his work for their complex compositions, but it was the story behind the art that spoke to Maggi on a personal level the most. Bradford refers to his work as “social abstraction”; inferring it is not “art about art;  it’s art about life….” [1]

[1] Christie’s, Post-War & Contemporary Art|Artists  Auction Catalog,  (March 1, 2018)  artist introduction, “The ‘social abstraction’ of Mark Bradford” referencing quote by Jeffrey Deitch

Ashley Coscarelli, Student, HON 210: Monsters and Monstrosities

During my journey through the virtual art gallery, the artist who struck me with the most interest was Mark Bradford. Not only were his art pieces visually breathtaking, but I was also moved by his descriptions and videos. One of the most fascinating ideas Bradford conveys is that many of the materials he used for his pieces were from his everyday enviroment. He was able to successfully convey emotion through his art by using unconventional materials including paper. As paper is one of the most "unforgiving" materials to work with, it was beautiful to watch Bradford work on some of his art pieces in the videos also included on the art gallery. Perhaps the most powerful moments on his page are when he talks about how he is able to interpret and create a new meaning to the civil rights movement through his art. He was able to take a defining moment in history and, through his art, communicate to todays audience why it is still so impactiful and important to fight for. The last video on his page was titled "Cerberus" and was dedicated to one of his civil rights pieces in his show Cerberus. The video also gave insight into the impact greek mythogolgy and specifically the monster Cerberus had on his childhood. It was a perfect way to end his section as his art perfectly aligned with our class. Bradford's art was truly inspiring and created a lasting impression on the power of art.

Reese Shald, Student, HON 210: Monsters and Monstrosities

I find that Maya Freelon and Mark Bradford had quite an important statement with their art and the form that they chose to adhere to (yes, the pun is intended). The use of standardized and commonplace items, like paper, glue, and Home Depot paint, perfectly alluded to the artist's early influences and serves as a metaphor of the inherent “poor hand” dealt to all minority citizens in this country, and around the world. There is an inherent challenge in the work like Mark Bradford mentioned, his work is intended to be a-political, and the subject matter makes it political. This underlying truth of the struggle to achieve fulfillment when the world is systematically against them is in each and every piece in this collection. I read it as the most fundamental version of the human struggle for peace and belonging, and I find it unsurprising that these individuals, who have an unfair struggle in these endeavors, as one of the most beautiful examples of what it means to be human. Especially in the works of Rotimi Fani-Kayode. In the collision of a man identifying as multiple minority groups, portraying the visuals of his life and circumstances in clean, western, photographs, the pattern of separation, segregation, of people by the insidious lie that people are different and deserving of different assignments of worth. I love how challenging all these works are to a norm that is so stuck and absentmindedly cultivated in white America.

This reminds me of a video essay by the Youtuber, Jacob Geller, in which he discusses the painting series, Who’s afraid of red yellow and blue, by Barnet Newman. The paintings are as titled, just the colors on canvas. This was on display in Amsterdam for years before it was vandalized, a gash cut across the entirety of the painting, 50 feet of violent oppression. The painting was hated for its simplicity and garish defiance of what was culturally established as good art. This argument, violence, and hatred was an integral part of the installation. Newman created the piece as a dare to those hating modern art, because he knew that this controversy was a fa├žade to cover the true intent of fascist suppression and antisemitism. Most of the hate came from people who claimed that his Jewish heritage explained how he could come up with something so offensive and was the reason that this simple art was inherently evil.

With this in mind, I come to the conclusion that this installation is simply telling a truth that does not coincide with a lie told by the aggressive right, and this defiance is invigorating. And a dare that actively fights the Fascist attempt to control the culture and understanding of other people that Jacob Geller claims to be at the forefront of art suppression. Thank you for listening to my ted talk, and I apologize for the length of this response but I could not refrain from saying each of these points.

Aidan DeCremer, Student, HON 210: Monsters and Monstrosities

The artist I found to be most captivating is Mark Bradford. The first thing that drew me was his use of the "grid". Pictures of the masses standing together in unity and the sentiment that all of us are somehow linked together came to mind upon my first viewing. The fact that he reclaimed this apparently overused style by conveying his influences within it, like reusing perm papers, is an accomplishment I find worth applause. I also enjoy lithographs a lot, as some of the earliest connections to art in my life are MC Escher's lithographs that my mom absolutely treasures. Bradford, like most of the artists in this exhibit, are faced with the issue of conveying their own unique black narratives and backgrounds through a predominantly white market. All the artists within the exhibit face this challenge differently, such as  Manuel Mendive, who mashes his portrayal of African traditions and culture with European art forms in an effort to symbolize the cultural ambiguity created by the African diaspora. And I believe messages in art, such as this, can definitely help change situations through the creation of a voice and by drawing attention to issues that our society continues to face today. All in all, everything comes down to education. In order to incorporate "black memories" into our lives, we must have more representation of the black experience in our education system. We are not taught enough.

Rose Steele, Student, HON 210: Monsters and Monstrosities

Something which struck me as a viewer of this exhibit was the use of art to expand on ideas. Particularly in the way that Ivan Forde and Mark Bradford chose to use their art as a sort of addition to/ continuation of the past by showing it through their own perspective. In this way, I felt that they were able to use their art to fulfill a space which was missing from their experience of the stories of the past. Ivan Forde did this by retelling classic poetry and literature from his own perspective through music and print making whereas Mark Bradford literally projected images from the past on to present day scenery in order to re-enliven both.  As Mark Bradford paraphrased in one of his videos 'you make the work with your life', I feel by viewing their own art as a continuation on history and/or their past work the artists featured in this exhibit are closing a gap in understanding which could not otherwise be done. 

Eve Gershon, Student, HON 210: Monsters and Monstrosities

I found the art of both Maya Freelon and Mark Bradford to be visually stunning and emotionally moving. I love that both of these artists use simple, easy to come by materials and turn them into to pieces of art that are both approachable and equally as mesmerizing as the works of art that use up-scale paints and work materials. Both of these artists work to challenge the "classical" art world to see the importance and power that comes from recognizing diverse artists. They also call their viewers to be empowered to make art of their own as well as calling everyone who sees their works to consider the history behind the materials they've used. For example, Mark Bradford's use of end papers in his work is used to both prove the accessibility of art and start an open conversation about beauty and hairstyles in the Black community. I believe that this art does have the capacity to change situations because this art is the first step in a conversation that can lead to change. The art of all five of these artists will inspire other Black artists to tell their stories as well as providing a backdrop for discussions around race, culture, and our troubled past. Additionally, I think Maya Freelon's burning of her own artwork is a further example of the ability of art to make change because Freelon is demonstrating that if we scream loud enough, people will eventually pay attention. It's sad that it takes fire for people to pay attention these days, but it is also proof that there are ways to get people to look up and start dealing with the unpleasantness of the reality in which we have found ourselves. In terms of our own personal abilities to make change, I think that we can incorporate Black memories into our lives by choosing to bring with us an understanding of the systemic hate and racism that so many have faced for centuries. As someone who wants to go into film, this means that I need to consider more than just my own perspective when creating art by bringing other voices to the table that are different from my own. For people who aren't necessarily interested in going into an artistic field, this means taking the time to try to view life from the perspective of these Black memories. This means taking the time to think about how history has sculpted our present into one of unjust privilege and unfounded hate and considering how we can change things now so that our future is not just more of the same. I believe that if we recognize the problems of our past, then we can finally find an effective way of mending the situation that will ensure our world to be a more comfortable place to live for all.

William Soule, Student, HON 338: ThanaTourism

I decided to discuss Mark Bradford’s work. When I observed his art, I felt a strange mix of chaos and order. As he discussed in one of the videos, he sticks to a grid-like format, yet allows himself to build abstractly out of it. I felt that, given the issue of systemic racism becoming more prominent, there was a connection. Bradford experienced poverty early in his life while he was trapped in a small black community in Los Angeles. In his situation, it was hard for him to afford materials for painting. The grid-like format of his art feels like a structured system, while the chaotic abstraction seems to symbolize the pain the system is causing. As an artist, I do believe art can change the world, but not directly. Art can be used to bring issues to light, as Bradford works do. It is up to the observer to realize the problem and help fix it. I think this type of art could be considered dark tourism, as the awful realities black people face every day could certainly be considered “dark”.

Sierra DeWalt, Student, HON 338: ThanaTourism

The artwork that stood out to me most was Mark Bradford’s End Papers exhibition. Both the pieces of art and what he said about it were notable to me. I thought that the way he described language was particularly timely. He said “The delicate dance of language. It’s a delicate dance because if you don’t do it right, it can fall into misinterpretation.” With the Black Lives Matter Movement and “All lives matter” claim, misinterpretation is a key issue. Each person interprets what other people say in their own way, based on their own past, background etc. This becomes a problem when people cannot see the harm that their interpretation (e.g. “all lives matter”) is causing others. This applies to art as well because art is its own language. People choose what they see in the artwork, so it is especially difficult for the artist to inform the viewer’s interpretation in order to prevent misinterpretation.
Another idea I was contemplating in the art is the question “does art have the capacity to change situations?” My answer is “no.” I don’t think that a piece of art can immediately or decisively cause change. I do, however, believe that artwork can spur and inspire change. I think someone can look at a piece of art and feel moved and then later similar feelings build on that which leads to action. But I don’t think someone can look at a work of art and then, without any other outside forces, go make a major change to themself or the world. Mark Bradford’s end paper collage/painting of a black person silenced by white squares (pieces of end paper) is one that captures the pain and injustice of oppression. I believe that piece of art could be highly influential and action-inspiring to many people, but I think it would take other experiences as well in order for those people to cause major change. 
I don’t believe that this exhibition counts as ‘dark tourism.’ To me, the word tourism means physically traveling or going somewhere and experiencing something new. While these pieces of artwork do cover dark material and allow our imaginations to travel, we do not go on any physical journey to see them.

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