Figuration is the depiction of the human form in space. In Joe Bradley’s most recent works the artist inverts the process. Space depicts the human figure, through the contrast of void and presence.
Plato had two theories about art. His more famous one is that art is best when it serves to “mirror” the beauty of the natural world. Certainly Mr. Bradley is no stranger to this concept. Yet the metaphorical possibilities of his monumental silhouetted figures go beyond our human fascination with pictorial depictions. The human form, as an obsession for artists, goes as far back as the pre-historic Lascaux cave paintings, and quite probably even further. These cave images are imbued with a sense of primitive talismanic value.
Archaic Greek vase paintings depicting warriors and nymphs, Egyptian hieroglyphics depicting Pharaohs and courts, as well as the gigantotomy of the chalk hill drawings from British Isles, including the Long Man of Wilmington and the Rude Man of Dorchester, seem to be invested with the similar quest for the essence of the Humanness.
The power in these works comes from Mr. Bradley’s efforts to attain the aura of life, evidenced through his struggle for depiction. Figure ground relationships, the most taut relationship in the plastic arts, are the key field of battle for Mr. Bradley’s figuration. The clarity of black silhouette of the figures contrasted with the stark whiteness of the ground seems to state with certainty the primacy of the image.
The slightest gesture: hands to the left or hands to right, knees bent or knees straight are ciphers for meaning in Mr. Bradley’s crypto-narrative. Are the figures representing negative or positive space? Do the frayed outlines of the black forms offer us any significant signal to their relative quarantine from or openness to the hermetic grounds they habituate? Are they oversized figures or human shaped portals to other dimensions or cosmos?