Jack Whitten, Mark Bradford’s friend, and artistic inspiration loved jazz. When reflecting on his evolving improvisational process with paint, Whitten once commented to the Walker that “The person who got me trapped in all of this was John Coltrane.” Some of Whitten’s favorite albums included Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s Blue Train, two records I love to get lost in.
Sadly, Whitten passed away in January after suffering complications from Leukemia, and in a fitting tribute to a lost friend and mentor, Bradford aptly named one of his recent works Moody Blues for Jack Whitten. It was a piece that Bradford happened to be working on when he received the news that Whitten had passed–the steel grey, blue, and lilac tones mimic the shades used in the cool, sleek, minimalist album covers by Blue Note Records, and the improvisational nature of Whitten’s process is mirrored in the improvisational outcomes from Bradford’s excavation process.
In his new show now on view at Hauser & Wirth, Bradford uses his signature layering, carving and excavation techniques on found materials which primarily include vintage comics. With these materials, Bradford taps into the comfort of the familiar as a salve for coping with the uncertainties in the world. It is an artistic theory that postulates the emotional urgency of escapism in healing, and it’s an assertion that certainly bears fruit when you consider the role comics play in escapism during times of political and social unrest. The wildly successful, record-breaking box office numbers for Marvel’s Black Panther, a movie that has created a Pan-African cultural moment, has certainly proved Bradford’s artistic argument.
Bradford’s New Works at Hauser & Wirth is his first gallery exhibition in Los Angeles in over 15 years and it’s one you must experience in person to capture serendipity in the detail. While I didn’t plan it this way, I love that these Artist a Day profiles were bookended with references to Jack Whitten, a man with an unrelenting dedication to process and a love for the artistic journey. This has been an affirming and inspirational exploration of the artistic paths of the incredible artists profiled here this month. It’s taught me that the pace and shape of growth are different for each of us and it’s a reminder to trust the lessons found on the journey we are on.