Thursday, July 29, 2010


PATRICK BRADLEY's explorations in abstraction pay tribute not only to the genre's persistent visual presence as an indefatigable subject, but also to a simple truth: beauty persists.  Represented by the gordon gallery , in Derry, Northern Ireland, Bradley is an abstractionist of committed attention to expanding his personal vision, as well as his vocabulary of visual language.  When I first encountered his works, I was immediately struck by what seemed a disarming simplicity of composition, color, and juxtaposition of formal elements.  But his work has much deeper resonances on repeated looking, and one soon realizes that these paintings are not simple at all. Their surfaces are layered with information and emotional content; they vibrate with a full range of visual hide and seek through graphic veils of color, form, and line.  They represent an eye that maintains a constant and perceptive observation of the natural world -- Bradley has an extraordinary ability to reduce a natural form to its soul -- and to couple it in community with others that share this energy and depth. Simplicity is the foundation in these works, which then build onto the canvas a complete architecture of personal language. The delight one finds in even the smallest application of a color is in seeing how that color is created in layers, is considered and partnered with colors and forms next to it.   For Bradley, abstraction is nothing short of celebration.  In his current work, Bradley's energies concentrate on the beauty of grids, creating expanses of rich color in concert with square and rectangular geometries, which crowd each other companionably; these are objects with unique personalities, gladly vying for our attention.  They are colloquial as well as collegial. Bradley's formal choices are sound, and balanced with a sense of free, sonorous brushwork that opens up the surface grids with beautiful movement.  In Patrick Bradley's canvases, abstraction is what our eye learns to see, after much looking at the world. And they urge us to keep doing so. 

THE ARTPOINT: What were your beginnings in art? Was there an experience that made you understand that this would be your main creative journey?

PATRICK BRADLEY: At secondary school Art and English literature were the only subjects that grabbed me; from there I stumbled into a job in the graphics department of the local library headquarters, where Dick Sinclair recognized my talent and press ganged me into applying successfully to art college. Dick had and has a great subversive streak, which I admire. I was then at the college of Art in Belfast, lucky to be amongst a great vibrant bunch of students in an invigorating creative atmosphere where I was allowed to blossom. 

When and why did you choose abstraction as your main subject of representation?

The artists I admire mostly are abstract or semi- abstract painters. I gradually drifted into abstraction during and after art college; at college I was excited by the new-found fundamental idea of making marks -- exciting spontaneous gestural marks, and I didn’t see any necessity in attaching these marks to anything figurative. However I do reserve the right to contradict myself! The real world informs what we do and we are bound to be influenced by our surroundings. Whilst I live in the city I am lucky to have a lush, and somewhat overgrown medium-sized garden, which is a peaceful oasis. and Derry is only a few miles from Donegal with its deserted beaches and wild unspoilt countryside -- so my Geminian duality traits are satisfied!

How does abstraction's formal vocabulary enable you to depict the natural world? How does the natural world provide you with inspiration for your formal compositions?

Influences filter in and out. I suppose I’m a conduit of sorts to things around me. I don’t think about things too much, preferring to let the work dictate; I just slog away and edit out the stuff that doesn’t work. Analysis leads to paralysis!  I’m constantly looking at the work of other artists from any source both old and new and also music, poetry popular culture and the world around me -- anything can spark ideas -- it’s mind food. It nourishes. Yum!

Your titles evoke so many different subjects: "Aorta", "Wingshadow", "Sirkus", "Amy's Wing", "Pink Flag" -- these call up such things as anatomy, heraldry, the circus, angels -- how do you come to name your works? What are the stories behind these titles?

I try to aim for an ambiguity within a title whilst simultaneously giving the viewer a clue or opening. I try to give them warm, friendly titles..."untitled’’ makes it difficult to know which pieces one is referring to; names make it easier: but the images themselves are the main thing...Stories -- “Aorta”, simple, I thought it looked a bit like a heart..“Wingshadow”; this painting reminds me of an old family quilt we have at home, a real comforter, under the shadow of one's wing...“ Sirkus”, German for circus --  It felt a bit like a Big Top! “Amy’s Wing”, this was named in tribute to Amelia Earhart who landed just outside Derry, my hometown. on her epic trans-Atlantic flight. The City Council here sadly withdrew the funding last year from the small museum to her, forcing it to close. I hope this will be rectified. I don’t think they realize how important a figure she is. “Pink Flag”-- 

I have always been interested in ethnic textiles and rugs, their colors and compositions are often beautiful and inspirational.  "Pink Flag" nods towards the memorial AIDS quilts and compositionally a ceremonial Nigerian embroidered cloak with its main motif floating on a plain background. It’s my big fat gay painting! 

Your landscape drawings are beautiful and simple: they seem like visualized "glances" that you've captured. Do the drawings also provide the basis for later ideas in the paintings?

They do and they don’t. I don’t work entirely in a linear fashion; I jump from idea to idea and maybe come back to notions and ideas at a later stage. Sometimes I have ideas that seem good but don’t work initially, then ages later they slip in more naturally when I’m not thinking about them too much. Sleepers.

What is the art community like in Ireland -- in Derry, specifically, but also on a wider scale. It seems that there is quite a vibrant energy in the contemporary scene now. The Gordon Gallery certainly is on the forefront of presenting emerging and established artists there.

In Derry as anywhere I suppose, being an artist is a bit of a lonely occupation particularly if you aren’t working in what is deemed to be the current contemporary practice -- isolation from other artists is a bit of a drag. There is very little studio provision here at the moment so meeting and socializing with other artists doesn’t happen enough at the moment. Things are happening but slowly; however, a few people are working to rectify this and I can see the studio situation for example growing a lot in the next few years. Richard Gordon of the Gordon Gallery is for instance trying to get a major studio facility off the ground. Difficult work. Derry is geographically a bit cut off and somewhat isolated and because of its recent history has quite a strong politically left wing vibe to it, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. Belfast and Dublin is where most of the action is naturally and you have to go there to see exhibitions and meet people. But the ‘outsider’ aspect we have here makes for an inherently healthy scene in that Derry has to create its own culture rather than just have things handed to it. 

What is singular about Irish art? Is there a national identity that is revealed?

To be honest, I’m not sure if there is anything particularly singular about Irish art apart from country of origin. Conceptual and issue-based work seems to be more predominant in the north whilst in the south, painting is stronger but overall it seems to me to be a disparate bunch of individuals reasonably aware of international trends and doing their own thing.  You’d probably be able to see it better than me, looking from afar. 

In your work, the landscape becomes a tangible object; your abstractions of the natural world have a presence and energy that enables the viewer to see many different things in your work -- but it is grounded in the landscape. Can you speak to this?

An artist is a bit like the narrow part of an hour-glass -- life, experience, ideas, people you meet,  everything you see, hear, smell, touch and taste rubs against you and has some influence. I try to be sensitive to this process and let it happen and let things come out organically rather than force them. My obsessions and likes surface; the rural landscape and the urban textures and shapes meld hopefully in an uncontrived fashion. This way there is always more in the work than intended or imagined.

Who has been important or inspirational in your development as an artist?

Walt Disney I think was the first to inspire me. When I was four or five, he sowed the seed!  Then later the big American Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, and then Andy Warhol supplied a bit of the punk ethic, which I hold dear. God Bless America indeed! The first piece of modern art I think I ever saw in reality was by William Scott, an Irish artist. It was a large abstract mural on panels in a hospital here in Derry and it was much vilified at the time (1969), which made it all the more alluring! I love Willem De Kooning's raw painterly work and real nice juicy paintings have the ability to thrill me and give me goose pimples. The encouragement of fellow artists and admirers of my work is so valuable and needed. Fr. Tom Jordan OP, of Dominican Publications in Dublin, used some of my work for book covers and this was a major confidence boost much needed at the time. Also the support of Richard Gordon of the Gordon Gallery has been another major boost. Artists thrive on confidence so the importance of encouragement and feedback cannot be underestimated. 

What inspires you most as a subject for your art?

Anything goes. Things I see around me be it urban or rural, and I sometimes spring off other artworks. I definitely work better when it’s sunny. Relentless grey skies are a bit of a downer, though I have produced some powerful dark brooding pieces in the winter months, but that process can be detestable. Recently pavements have been a source for ideas. Cement pavements: dug up and filled in and the resulting patchwork of holes with their different textures, shapes and colors and their skewed logic throws up quite often really lively uncontrived compositions. I’ve tried to have a similar illogical logic in my paintings. “Pavemental” being the most obvious example. 

What is the most difficult challenge that you face being an artist in the current economy? Do you feel that art can transcend economic fluctuations, or does the art market define who and what is shown?

Being an artist is a vocation. Money whilst necessary is secondary and not the driving force. I don’t really mould myself into what’s selling or indeed current. I paint mainly and paintings are luckily for me the easiest kind of artworks to sell! Artists are adept at surviving on a shoestring. Hopefully in recessionary times creativity will rise to the surface and prosper. Maybe glum economics will rid us of some of the pretenders.

How do you find collectors of your work, other than from your exhibitions?

In the last year or two I have made the decision to concentrate and put my energy into the work  and leave the galleries to do the selling bit almost totally. An artist friend of mine, Peter Hughes likes to say, ‘’if you are true to the Spirit of Painting, then the Spirit of Painting will be true to you.’’ I am grateful to people who have supported me in the past by putting their money where my mouth is and it continues to give me a  buzz thinking that people like the paintings well enough to buy them and nail them up in their homes.

Do you feel that art criticism is a help or a hindrance today? Are there critics who you think are doing the best to promote art and artists in an honest and informative way?

It’s a good thing, and necessary. It opens up the art and is helpful for both the viewer and the artist. It takes a  while after you are finished a piece to be able to see it objectively, sometimes you take a piece as far as you can and when works are pushing and cutting new territory it is hard to get distance, so outside opinions are useful. Rather than for individuals I think art criticism and art writing help grow the audience and give art a backup against those who dismiss it as frivolous and unnecessary. Personally I like writing that is clear and unpretentious. A fair bit of art writing I find dense with four-syllable bullshit and is merely conceptual polyfill, so to read passionate intelligent but understandable writing is a pleasure. Here in Ireland there are good writers such as Brian McAvera, Aidan Dunne and Brian Fallon, and the "Irish Arts Review’’ is a  glossy quarterly publication that showcases painting and sculpture admirably. ( "Circa’’ magazine concentrates on the contemporary Irish art scene (

What is happening next for you? What are your new projects or ideas?

At the moment I have six paintings on the go in the studio. I’m beginning to concentrate on a smaller palette of colors rather than the usual approach of squeezing out a perplexing 50 or so colors ! And I’m intending to expand this into fifteen or twenty pieces for a solo or maybe two-man show, venue as yet unknown, hopefully Belfast or Dublin. But meanwhile just keeping my nose to the grindstone and just painting away. I am getting a small bronze sculpture cast from a wax model, which is a first for me, and I look forward with bated breath how it will look. I intend to do more. I also intend a small watercolor show -- grids, drips and blobs -- and I have been collecting washers and bits of wood & wire and jetsam & flotsam to maybe put together a small show of heads/masks. So now that I’ve said all that I’ll have to do it! 

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT PATRICK BRADLEY, 2010. Reproduced with the kind permission of the artist. 

Images, top to bottom: "Pacific Drift"; Cutstrip Cabaret I"; "Amy's Wing"; "Pink Flag"; "Fractured Landscape"; "Bazooka"; "Ice Cream Cosmos"; "Blue Stone II"; "Pavemental"; "Landscape"; "Mask". 

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