The Changing Painting: Interview with Dove Bradshaw, Part 1

In anticipation of her installation of her work Contingency on Wall at the Phillips, artist Dove Bradshaw sat down with Phillips blog manager Amy Wike to discuss her artistic process.

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Dove Bradshaw installing Contingency on Wall (2016) at the Phillips. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Amy Wike: I thought we would begin with you describing your creative process. Generally speaking, from the inception of an idea, how do you begin; what does your creative process look like?

Dove Bradshaw: Wow! What a question. Nearly every idea comes in a different way. For instance, let’s talk about the piece I’m doing here, and how I got the idea . . . In 1984, I covered works on paper with silver leaf and then painted and poured this chemical, liver of sulfur, on it to create phenomenological kinds of images having to do with the topography of the paper; [for example] if it was handmade paper it was rough, it would pool, and so on. And the piece that I’m doing here is a mural. The first time I thought of the idea was in 1988, where I was re-creating an installation of twenty years before Plain Air . . . I had decided to put on the wall rectangles of plaster and of silver leaf. In the end, I didn’t execute it in that piece but that was when I conceived of it and did it later in my studio, my home. And the piece I’m doing here has no chemical, it’s just a skim coat of plaster, then gesso, varnish, and silver leaf, and I leave the leaf to sulfurize in the air. Light, air, humidity, all affect silver. So in the course of a year, you’ll see the changes. The longer it’s up, folks at the museum, the longer you’ll see the changes!

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Dove Bradshaw installing Contingency on Wall (2016) at the Phillips. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

AW: That leads nicely into another question I have, which is: do you ever consider a work finished?

DB: Yeah! Yeah I do. William Anastasi (with whom I have lived with for four decades) titled a whole series of works Abandoned Paintings with Willem de Kooning‘s notion that paintings are never finished, they’re merely abandoned, in mind. However, I do finish work. Unlike writing; I find that you can come in and tweak it, tweak it and tweak it, right? . . . . In painting, I find, rarely do I want to come back and change something.

AW: You’ve worked a number of different mediums and forms—performances, stage design, sculpture—how do these all relate to each other? You did just speak quite well to that, do you have any other examples of that kind of cross-reference in your very different mediums?

DB: Well when I worked for sets, costumes, and lighting with Merce Cunningham, the first piece I used I was influenced by Mondrian. He believed that color should be integrated into architecture not as a decorative element, but as an essential element to the structure and the movement. I thought that this would be great for dance, of course, and by coincidence, there happened to be fourteen different colors in Wall Work II, 1943-1944, where the primaries were on colored cardboard squares of different sizes. There were fourteen dancers in Merce’s company, so it was perfect, it seemed as though the pasta had fallen on the sauce. And so I thought, “Merce will be in grey and the dancers will all be in color.” It made a beautiful pattern; at any moment on the stage, there could be a cluster of five red and one primary blue and mix it up, or just a couple of white accents, and so on.

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Dove Bradshaw installing Contingency on Wall (2016) at the Phillips. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

And then after that was my own work, I would transfer whatever I would be thinking of at the moment to a set design. Most notably in Fabrications I had one where I had . . . an inner ear valve and intestines which looked very beautiful because they were a diagram, two spirals, and I had the dancers in [their colored] dresses. The dresses…were in silk and so the swirl of the dresses connected to the spirals of those intestines.

A Sculptor’s Drawings: Jae Ko in 2-Dimensions

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Jae Ko, Untitled (JKD#4), 2011; Untitled (JKD#10), 2014; Untitled (JKD#11), 2014. Promised gift of Linda Lichtenberg Kaplan, 2014. Image courtesy of Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC

DC-based artist Jae Ko works in a studio eighty miles outside of the city in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. It is fitting that she works away from the hustle and bustle of the city; when she needs inspiration, she and her partner Jim Sanborn, also an artist, drive around exploring quiet backroads. They seek places of solitude, free of other people. Ko says she does not bring any sketchbooks or supplies with her, and does not take photographs. She simply sits outside and absorbs her surroundings, observing and feeling the sky, the air, and the atmosphere. These moments in nature inspire her work.

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Jae Ko, Black #22, 2014; Black #23, 2014; Black #24, 2014

Ko’s oeuvre consists mostly of abstract, organic forms made from simple, ephemeral materials. Natural forms she observes in nature return in her art. For example, looking over a cliff onto a winding river below may stick in her memory, and later become evident in the twisting form of a sculptural piece. Her giant sculptural work Force of Nature was featured in an Intersections show at the Phillips in 2011. She views her works as living, and therefore always changing. Ko intentionally works with materials that are subject to deterioration and transformation. She does not strive for perfection, and enjoys watching the effect of time on her art. Sometimes the random “accidents” that happen during her process are what inspire new ideas. Two groups of Ko’s works are now on view at the museum: Untitled (JKD #4), 2011; Untitled (JKD #10), 2014; Untitled (JKD #11), 2014 and Black #22; Black #23; and Black #24, 2014. These works give viewers the chance to see another side of the sculptor, working with flatter, 2-dimensional concepts.

Untitled (JKD #4), 2011; Untitled (JKD #10), 2014; and Untitled (JKD #11), 2014 are currently featured in the exhibition Modern Vision: American Sculptors’ Drawings from the Linda Lichtenberg Kaplan Collection. Lined up horizontally, these three works are composed of calligraphic ink and glue. Ko started these particular drawings in 1998, but only worked on them periodically, unhappy with the result until recently. She started with ink drawings in a spiral shape, and began to apply layers of ink mixed with glue. The build up of the glue-ink mixture added an element of fluidity to the work; as temperature fluctuates, the glue starts to melt or slightly change over time.

Similar in their circular and spiral shapes, Black #22; Black #23; and Black #24, 2014 are now on view as part of Intersections @ 5: Contemporary Art Projects at the Phillips. She had a sketch for this work in her sketchbook for over 20 years before making these drawings. Ko doesn’t think that drawings necessarily need to be pencil to be classified as such, and she considers this work one of her drawings. Made from vinyl cord that Ko ordered online, each one of these series took the artist about a week of intense work to complete. She foregoes the traditional artist supply stores, looking instead for materials that come pre-rolled. The vinyl cord was a local craft store find. Vinyl is very difficult to work with, since it is impossible to make the cord lay flat, but Ko did not want the circular and spiral forms of the work to be perfect anyway. The plastic vinyl is flexible, fluctuating with temperature, and therefore constantly changing with time, like her other pieces.

All of Ko’s work is related. Her drawings maintain the same changing, organic forms that define her sculpture. I’ll be interested to see what becomes of these works in 20 years, when time has taken more of a toll. But for now, I’ll just have to enjoy the drawings on view.

Emily Conforto, Marketing & Communications Intern