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.

Making a Mural, Starting with a Pool

Of his artistic process, mural artist James Bullough says, “Every wall is a slightly different process…I normally start with the dark areas and work toward the light areas and just kind of move like a printer from one section of the painting all the way down.” Read more about the mural, and parts one and two of a larger interview with Bullough.

Interview with James Bullough, Part 2

As artist James Bullough creates a mural at 905 U Street, NW, The Phillips Collection asks him a few questions about his vision and process. Read Part 1 here

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Artist James Bullough on day 4 creating a mural at 905 U Street, NW.

How do you feel your mural proposal speaks to the U Street neighborhood? To the city at large?
Without giving too much away, I wanted to bring a calm and relaxing piece of art to an area that is anything but. The underwater color pallet and sense of quiet calm that the floating figures will create will be a nice relief from the chaos and hustle of a busy city street. Just below the surface, however, this piece may also speak to the feeling often shared among people living in a big city; that they are lost in a world that’s too big for them, one that they are powerless to impact or even be seen in… then again, maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with that.

What is most challenging about being a mural artist?
The most difficult part for me in creating any work of art is developing an interesting and innovative idea for every piece. I try to do something new with every painting, but as my schedule for both mural work and studio/gallery work fills and fills, it becomes increasingly hard to come up with new and interesting ideas at such a rapid pace. I have a very high standard for myself and keeping up with my own self imposed criteria and criticisms is a major task to say the least.

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Mural artist James Bullough in action.

These questions largely focus on your mural painting. Have you or do you work in other mediums?
My studio work is mostly one of two mediums. I paint with oils and I draw with pencil. My oil paintings can be on canvas, panel, or often times on interesting pieces of wood that I find on the streets of Berlin or on my travels. The subject matter of my studio work tends to be more provocative than my public artwork and often revolves around the female nude or semi-nude figure. Pencil illustration is another love of mine but in the art world, unfortunately, an oil painting has a much higher value than a pencil drawing and as I have streamlined my painting process over the past year or so, it takes me about the same amount of time to do a nice pencil drawing as it does to do an oil painting so I haven’t done much drawing lately.

Are there any artists, art historical or otherwise, who inform your work?
One of my biggest influences historically was Egon Schiele who painted the human form in a groundbreaking and innovative way even though it cost him greatly. The Avant Garde nature of his work is hugely inspirational and motivated me as a developing artist to push myself.

To be honest though, most of my influences are and always have been young contemporary artists. Specifically, people around my own age and with similar aesthetic sensibilities. Artists like Conor Harrington, Erik Jones, Jaybo Monk, Etam Crew, and pretty much any living realistic oil painters. Feeding off of other artists’ energy, drive, and motivation is one of the biggest things that fuels my fire and pushes me to stay on top of my game and keep competitive with an ever-expanding and increasingly exceptional group of peers.

How has your work changed over the years?
My work is constantly changing. The realism is getting more and more real as I have more experience with my materials and techniques and I continue to push myself to dissect, fracture, distort, and manipulate my subjects in new and interesting ways. Hopefully this process will continue and the “changing” will never stop.