Is Peter Bradley ready for the second round in the spotlight?

SAUGERTIES, NY – Artist Peter Bradley is one month under 81, and his future is unfolding. On a recent hot day, as hummingbirds circled ...

SAUGERTIES, NY – Artist Peter Bradley is one month under 81, and his future is unfolding.

On a recent hot day, as hummingbirds circled around sunflowers in his upstate New York garden, art specialists were pulling out his paintings for three upcoming exhibitions at the Karma Gallery in downtown Manhattan.

The first is a tribute to the flagship Bradley exhibition held 50 years ago, showcasing abstract works by 18 black and white artists side by side in Houston. Funded by the the philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, it was one of the first racially integrated exhibitions in the country. This month, the works of all the artists in the original exhibit, including Sam Gilliam, Ed Clark, Kenneth Noland, Anthony Caro, and Virginia Jaramillo, will be reunited at Karma on East Second Street and Parker Gallery in Los Angeles.

Next, a group exhibition curated by critic Hilton Als around the idea of ​​faith, with Bradley’s new abstract paintings shown alongside works by Diane Arbus and Peter Hujar. Finally, the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York since 1993 is scheduled to open in October.

Prices are also increasing. In June, a 1973 painting, “Ruling Light,” valued at between $ 10,000 and $ 15,000, sold for $ 110,700 at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, North Carolina.

It’s a major comeback for Bradley, who rose to the top of the art world in the 1970s, but has virtually disappeared from public view for the past two decades. Karma began working with Bradley over the past year as the race and inequality calculus tore across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Karma’s reintroduction of Bradley’s abstract works comes at a time when figurative works by black artists have become urgent – and in demand.

“The bottom line is, make it happen before you drop dead,” Bradley said, sipping craft beer on a stone patio. It was 10 a.m. and he looked casual and chic in a Hawaiian shirt, paint-stained shorts and rain boots, his hair a nest of big white curls.

Bradley has always had style. As a merchant in his twenties, he drove Ferraris and wore handmade costumes, selling Picassos, Mirós, and Calders to the Perls Galleries on Madison Avenue. He looked after clients like Robert Redford and Gregory Peck. Greta Garbo and Mark Rothko stopped to chat.

He then exhibited at the prestigious André Emmerich Gallery, known for championing artists associated with Color Field painting, a post-war abstract style unrelated to race issues.

In 1971 he turned down an invitation to participate in the Whitney Museum’s survey, “Contemporary Black Artists in America” ​​(“I didn’t want to be in the context of artists who were not good in any color”, he said last week). Instead, he put on a racially integrated show, which opened at De Luxe Cinema in Houston in August of that year. In the 1980s, Bradley traveled to South Africa to create an abstract artists’ residency, began sculpting, and hit the road with jazz musician Art Blakey.

“Wearer of several hats (art dealer, curator, painter, sculptor, musician, teacher), the story of Peter is worth knowing, full of beautiful anecdotes and historical tales that reveal an image of the past that is also still unknown to many scholars and historians ”, writes Terence Trouillot in BOMB magazine in 2017.

In person, Bradley is warm, irreverent, irreverent, shameless and speechless. He met the who’s who of the post-war avant-garde and made up his own mind. Asked about this or that legendary artist or musician, he pronounces dry verdicts: Racist. Shaking. Drug. There is no anger in his voice.

“All he wants is to paint,” said Brendan Dugan, the owner of Karma. “Every day is a gift, and it goes on.”

Bradley and his wife, Debra Roskowski, live in a stone house in Saugerties that lacked windows, electricity and heating when they bought it in 1997. They were cooking on a two-level stove and washing washing dishes with a pipe outside, said Roskowski, a retired fashion designer.

There’s a huge tub from Bradley’s old loft on Broadway and a sink from his childhood home in western Pennsylvania. Many valuable works of art amassed during his career as an art dealer have been sold to make ends meet. But he did manage to keep a Calder lithograph personally signed by the artist, tribal artifacts, and elephant and giraffe skulls he brought from South Africa.

Bradley stopped wearing bespoke suits after leaving Perls Galleries in 1975. “Ferrari” is now a nickname for his Hustler lawnmower. His workshop occupies a shipping container parked near the house. Inside, one wall is lined with shelves of golden acrylic paints that he has used for decades. A small oven warms the place in winter.

“I feel like I’m composing music,” he said, sitting on a Steinway stool, with Count Basie playing softly in the background. There are no brushes in sight. Instead, Bradley uses his hands, wooden sticks, and an electric paint mixer to mix colors in plastic buckets. He then pours the concoction onto the damp surface of a canvas.

Canvases are laid out on the ground and on the grass, a few sports puddles. A few years ago, Bradley discovered that paint adheres differently to the wet surface than to the dry surface. Now he sprinkles the canvas before applying the paint.

“In Manhattan, I would be in jail for doing that,” he said. “They kicked me out immediately: water was coming down to someone’s house. The colors are vibrant, with medium gel balls adding depth, weight and dimension. The works seem open, unpredictable, like jazz.

Bradley was one of a handful of black artists, along with Gilliam, Clark, and Williams, doing abstract work in the late 1960s and 1970s. Today as then, he vehemently opposes figuration. , including “silly figurative black art.” A bunch of slaves on boats, ”he said.

“We invented abstract art, and we still do that kind of nonsense.”

“Look outside. Look how abstract it is in here,” Bradley said, looking at the garden. “Before you see plants, you see the color. What is important is the color. Nothing else. . “

The garden is a link to his childhood in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where he had to weed his mother’s garden. Born in 1940, Bradley was adopted by Edith Ramsey Strange, a wise and enterprising woman. She bought a 27-room house, once used by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and filled it with dozens of foster children and visiting jazz musicians. Both were sources of income, Bradley said. Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and other musicians boarded and performed during a trip to the area.

His mother bought him an easel at a music store. (Later, she also bought him his first luxury car, a Jaguar.)

Coming to New York in the 1960s, he encountered racism throughout the art establishment. When he joined the conservation service at the Guggenheim, his staff had to vote if they could enter the dining room for lunch. (They elected him.) The art schools weren’t much better. The Detroit The Society of Arts and Crafts was a “terrible school,” he said. “But then I went to Yale and it was just as bad. They had no respect for black artists.

Bradley traveled to New Haven two days a week while working for Perls Galleries. He drove the Ferrari he received as a Christmas present from his girlfriend, a St. Louis heiress named Mary Frances Rand. He eventually left the Yale School of Art because of a dispute with an administrator who told him he couldn’t get a luxury car on campus (although Bradley said the school made exceptions for white classmates).

When speaking with Bradley, you have to accept certain narrative gaps and inconsistencies. At one point, Bradley said that Rothko may have introduced the de Menils and then the Medici to the art world. Last week, the name of the couple’s daughter, Christophe de Menil, emerged.

When asked by the couple to organize a contemporary black art exhibition, Bradley initially refused. Instead, he suggested a show that would feature strong performers from diverse racial backgrounds. He found a space in the abandoned, formerly isolated De Luxe cinema in the poor, predominantly black neighborhood of Houston.

“The De Luxe show marks the very first time that good black performers have shared attention and homage with good white performers,” Bradley said at the time. “Black artists look great with them just because they’re good. All the artists in the series have certainly paid their due. Live in poverty. You wonder where the next penny will come from to buy paint, let alone food. Begging to be exposed. I wonder if you’ll ever be heard, seen.

Clement Greenberg, influential art critic and champion of Color Field painting, came to Houston as a guest but ended up helping set up the show.

Interviewed for the catalog, Greenberg said the event was unprecedented. “It’s not that art has never been introduced to poor neighborhoods before. But not “hard” contemporary art. And with such a complete lack of condescension. The show, he said, “sets a unique example, and I hope it will be well emulated from now on.”

Despite this approval, the careers of many of the non-white artists on the show took decades to unfold. Jaramillo was 81 when she had her first museum exhibition, at the Menil Collection, last year. Clark’s career and recognition surged shortly before the artist’s death in 2019.

Bradley struggled even longer, mixing occasional teaching gigs with house painting jobs. (He helped paint a federal courthouse in Manhattan and the roses in the hallway of the Plaza Hotel, he said.)

“Peter was successful in the 1970s,” said Dugan of Karma, “but he didn’t have the wealth and stability to go on. “

Bradley’s fortunes began to change when he met Robert Langdon, owner of the Emerge Gallery & Art Space in Saugerties. Langdon heard of the old black artist who lived and painted in town.

“His work is amazing, and I was shocked that he hasn’t had a show in a while,” Langdon said. He organized the Bradley solo show in 2019, with six paintings, priced between $ 60,000 and $ 80,000.

“Robert saved my life,” Bradley said.

Last year the Karma Gallery arrived. “And now it’s the world,” said Langdon, who acts as a liaison between Bradley and the East Village gallery.

“It’s hard when you’re unrecognized and depressed,” Dugan said. “Now things are exciting, things are happening. There is dialogue and support. This is what every artist needs.

The luxury show

Until September 25, Karma, 188 East 2nd Street, Manhattan; (212) 390-8290;

Until September 18, Parker Gallery, 2441 Glendower Avenue, Los Angeles; 203-631-1343;

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Newsrust - US Top News: Is Peter Bradley ready for the second round in the spotlight?
Is Peter Bradley ready for the second round in the spotlight?
Newsrust - US Top News
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