Joe Bradley has had solo shows in New York galleries since 2003. But his final appearance in Petzel — his first in six years — feels like the first show of the rest of his career.
His new paintings are strongly colored works that gracefully balance between representation and abstraction. They may be the most conventional of Bradley’s career, but they are also the most captivating.
Bradley devoted the first decade of his resume to what you might call ironic, anti-painting paintings. They were post-conceptual and challenging: you had to decide if they qualified as paintings. The best of these minimal works was a series of huge raw canvases with a single motif outlined in black oil chalk. Though monumental, they had the intimacy of doodles and were drawn all at once with no adjustments, which was impressive.
Then came a transition phase where Bradley began to apply paint with a wide brush to dirty canvases, the footprints and drops of paint that were part of the composition. These were rough and nicely scaled. But the game of intention against misfortune was well known, somewhere between Julian Schnabel and abstract expressionism.
Not coincidentally, Bradley’s trajectory accelerated: in 2011, after three solos, he left Canada for Gavin Brown’s venture and another three. In 2016, he joined Gagosian, a pinnacle of success not known for his careful dealings with younger performers. After one show in New York and three elsewhere, he left in 2021.
Now Bradley just makes paintings, self-confident, funny but not ironic. He covers most of the canvas, working with a narrower brush, eliminating large gestures and pulling you close to the surface. The colors are of equal warmth; white lines run through them, creating shapes, separating areas in broad patchwork with mountainous profiles or suggestions of flat fields. This happens most poetically in “Jubilee,” where three fields of different greens and two mountains wobble between flat and deep.
Now there are enough adjustments; often he sweeps one color over another, or adds clusters of dots to this or that shape. There is a clear disinterest in closing anything; glimpses of what is beneath are actively present.
Art history is evoked obliquely. Towards the center of ‘Fool’s Errand’ a rectangle of dark blue, brightened by some white dots, floats above a field of red; it’s a Monet in a box.
The center of “Cameo” is a skirmish of bright yellow, pricks and dots in red, and two black lines. The battlefield is a pair of large overlapping crosses, black and red, reinforced versions of those of Russian constructivist Kazimir Malevich. Elsewhere, motifs seem to have just materialized in the process, such as the suggestion of a brown face wrapped in laurel and the pizza slice in “Outline.”
This show is titled ‘Bhoga Marga’ which Bradley translates from Sanskrit as ‘the enduring path of experience’. The question hanging over us is not, “Is this a painting?” but “How was this painting made?” The answer is clear: the artist gradually invented it, point by point, in a continuous circuit of looking and thinking (or feeling) and doing. You just need to open your eyes to retrace his steps.
Joe Bradley: Bhoga Marga
Until April 30 at Petzel, 456 West 18th Street, Manhattan; (212) 680-9467, petzel.com.