February 22, 2011 | by Stephanie LaCava
The artist Joe Bradley has his studio in an old pencil factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. There is no buzzer. You must call his cell phone to be let in, and then ride a manual elevator to the white concrete space where he works on the fifth floor. Bradley was part of the 2008 Whitney Biennial and was recently featured in two solo shows. I visited the thirty-five-year-old artist to talk about his evolving process as a painter.
This building is called the Pencil Factory. When you go outside, there are these giant pencils on the wall. It’s got a lot of light, and it’s quiet and big enough. You can have six or seven paintings up at the same time and don’t have to shift them around.
I don’t go into painting with any kind of plan. The ones I am happiest with I have no idea how I arrived at. The best ones are always a real surprise. For most of the paintings I use unprimed canvas and oil paint. I like drawing when the canvas is on the floor, and then I’ll pin it up and see what it looks like on the wall. Sometimes, I turn it over and work on the other side. The nature of the oil paint is that it kind of bleeds through the canvas so you have some sort of residual marks seeping through from the other side and influencing the composition.
I need time, really. Eight uninterrupted hours is ideal. My day’s a little irregular. If I have some kind of deadline, I try and get here at eleven in the morning. It depends. You have to know when to quit. Sometimes you’ll be rolling along and it’s a good idea to stick around, and sometimes you’re not going to hit it at all and you got to leave. If I have something to do, I’ll stay here really late. There’s no fixed schedule. I’ve slept here a few times. I don’t like to torture myself.
I’ve always avoided the idea of having a job, and I never wanted to turn this into a job. I have no assistants. Sometimes I’ll have somebody come stretch canvases, but there’s no need for anyone here. I think it’s impossible for me to do anything when anyone’s around. It’s a lot of looking, really. I’m not a real dynamic painter. It’s not action painting. There’s a lot of just sitting and looking and thinking. Then, I’ll make a move every once and a while. You have to stalk the thing, you know?
There’s more than enough information in the painting. I think the way they are read is interesting to me. Some people seem to get a lot out of them and some people think I am full of shit and they’re just terrible. I don’t like to hear people’s elaborate excuses for making art, so I don’t try to make any myself. It is a funny form of communication. You make these things and you drop them off in a space and then, there’s no way of telling what people think or what’s coming across. Painting is very satisfying, but not exactly fun. I like the pace of it. I like that it’s an experience that resists media. You have to be there in front of it to experience it—that’s a rare item these days.
An exhibition of new drawings by Joe Bradley is on display at The Journal Gallery on 168 North 1st Street, Brooklyn, from February 22 to March 27.