The Changing Painting: Interview with Dove Bradshaw, Part 2

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. Read Part 1 here.

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

Amy Wike: It’s interesting that you’re talking about how your different forms of media relate to each other, but also you’ve talked about how your work relates back to your work from much earlier on.

Dove Bradshaw: Decades. For the first time this year, I am using materials that could not have been used for thousands of years. Everything else I used was salt, silver, linen, canvas—materials that had been around since antiquity. But 3D-printing, resin—no . . . . The show I have on now called Unintended Consequences . . . includes bullets that are 3D-printed from the same .38 caliber bullets that I collected about 35 to 36 years earlier (I had made them into earrings). I had not done anything with bullets since, and once 3D-printing became viable, I blew them up to 25–30 inches and surfaced them with white gold, aluminum, bronze, lemon gold, black rubber, and so on. They are shown with these paintings that are silver leaf with organic matter and in some cases, the marriage between the paintings and the sculpture is very close because it looks like some of this abstract imagery that’s on the paintings.

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

AW: Back to what is being shown here: Contingency on Wall is part of a larger series, the Contingency series. Could you talk a bit about the series and how this work that’s on view at the Phillips fits into it?

DB: The word “contingency” came from the activity of silver; as I said, it’s contingent on light, air, and humidity, and [I use] this chemical which speeds it up and alters it irrevocably; it won’t look that way with just light and air and humidity, it makes marks and distinguishes the foreground and the background.

I got the title from John Cage’s 15 ingredients for a composition presented as part of his Norton lectures, which would relate very much to any artistic practice. Some of the words Cage used were contingency, indeterminacy, notation, discipline, performance . . . so I had gone through this list and used as titles about half the words he used as titles, and “contingency” worked very well for the paintings. Then I’ll give identifiers: Contingency [Snowmelt], for instance, just identifies that this particular painting was out in the snow for a while.

AW: My last question: you mentioned Piet Mondrian, John Cage; are there any other artists who inform your work?

DB: Dalí was a huge early influence, still love him—amazing creativity, completely unfettered, even met him—flirted with me! Though he must have done that with a lot of young girls. But I wouldn’t say that he’s an influence anymore. I would say Duchamp was a major influence, the permission that he gave.

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

Installing Acts of Silence

Of her installation at the Phillips, Acts of Silence, and how it speaks to the work by Morris Graves on view in the same galleries, Helen Frederick says: “Much of this came from traveling to California, where for the first time I saw the redwoods; and just the evolution of the plant life and the bird life, and those great massive trees and the shadows cast by the trees . . . the muffled sounds from the ocean . . . [these] allow me to understand why Morris Graves found this environment where he wanted to be for the last years of his life.”

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.