Bourgeois. Brătescu. Bradford.

Hauser + Wirth Los Angeles opens three new exhibitions – Louise Bourgeois | The Red Sky; Greta Brătescu | The Leaps of Aesop; and Mark Bradford | New Works.

Besides their conveniently alliterative surnames, each of the three artists’ practices can be described as working through personal narratives that echo in larger historical milieu. And, while “working through personal narrative that echo in larger historical milieu” may be a distillation of virtually every artistic practice, the three bodies of work on display here combine a unique formal syntax with a conceptual language. For Brătescu, it is an animation and design language combined with sequential imagery. Bourgeois brings her printmaking and drawing to work that is constructed out of multiple panels. Bradford probes the archetypes of comic books in his signature abstract aesthetic. Bradford’s and Bourgeois’ works are large in scale, Brătescu’s become large by repetition.

Brătescu works through an evolving avatar in Aesop, a figure of transcendent and shifting significance. Irreverence, freedom, and creativity are a constant though – the three primary ingredients of Brătescu’s diverse, multimodal practice. Sequential and time-based media dominate her largely narrative practice – interspersed with graphical experimentation, and playful throughout. She works in collage, animation, video, photography, and drawing. Her “Game of Forms” series plays on the double meaning of forms as visual elements and as the fable being a “form” of storytelling, open to endless variation.

For Bourgeois, art is a means of working through personal tragedy. Here, trauma is her analogy to Brătescu’s Aesop. Where Brătescu works with a more detached aesthetic of cut out forms and illustrated characters, Bourgeois’ mark-making is highly personal and subjective. “Red Sky” constitutes 11 panels, each 54” x 46”,  covered in images evocative of the body, from the surface to the interior of veins and capillaries, to landscape, all unified in tones of red. Bourgeois links the color red to intense emotions, pain, and depression. Hand-written text becomes part of the image in “Have a Little Courage” is one of a series of large-scale works that juxtapose text with abstraction. The works create a relationship between emotional pain and the body by seamlessly integrating text and image, the mental and the physical.

Mark Bradford’s New Works provide an interesting triangulation to the other two. His probing of comic books for their archetypical significance and heightened drama alludes to the fabulist at play in Brătescu’s work, but his surfaces have an emotional immediacy beyond any kind of symbolic significance as found with Bourgeois. The striations created in the surface of his canvases create rivulets similar to the organic abstractions of Bourgeois. Bradford demonstrates here his mastery over a very difficult technique, one that merges collage with the language of abstract painting. The indexical marks on the canvas – those of Bradford’s digging and scraping, layering and burying, become again symbolic as one learns that the raw materials used are found scraps of billboards, posters, comics, and newsprints – the materials of mass communication, the “tools of civilization.” Language in Bradford’s work is not part of the image, but it is used as metadata (in the titles of the works, culled from comic speech bubbles) and in the raw material used in the production of the works.

To try and paint with paper is paradoxical – perhaps also what it is in America to be black and queer. At the very least, a difficult situation, as Bradford describes a childhood partially spent trying to figure out “how to be the only black kid in Santa Monica.” His upbeat and disarming personal demeanor belies the sociopolitical trauma his work engages with. But, this is the charm of the fool who is able to speak truth to power, the charm of Brătescu’s Aesop. Bradford himself is playful (and maybe mischievous), he is his own version of Aesop. Bradford’s works combine the formal inventiveness of Brătescu with the emotional gravitas of Bourgeois. If Bradford is searching for new heroes and archetypes, he could do worse than Greta Brătescu and Louise Bourgeois.



Photography: Craig Collins