About the time I was 7, I got really into black-exploitation films, so I made my own Wonder Woman, but I made her black.
At the end of the day, I’m an artist. I may make work and decide to do something political, but it will come out of an artist’s position. It won’t come out of society telling me I have to. If I do, it’s because I choose, as an artist, to do it.
Everything I do has an underlying political question.
Generally, when I tell people I’m a painter, they ask me if I have a card: ‘Yes, we’d like this room in this color.’ I still might get cards that say ‘Mark Bradford. Painter.’
I am fully present wherever I am. Why bother being in a community or neighborhood and not being fully present? I think that’s colonization. I’m not interested in that.
I can go to my own opening, and the security guard will tell me that I have to go to the security entrance.
I don’t believe in blanket statements on race.
I don’t know why so many artists talk about the mainstream’s problems from the fringe. I think, unfortunately, it’s almost like our education makes us too safe and terrified to step into the world.
I don’t know why we, in the art world, cannot unpack things and sort of make hybrid notions of a practice. We’re very rigid. It’s funny, though; in music, we have no problem sampling, mixing and remixing. But in the art world, why can’t we take little parts of history and mix it together?
I don’t look at things in black and white. There are big gray areas. There’s a lot of slippage.
I fell through the holes in the educational system. But education is still a way to change a life.
I figure if you have one person that loves you, that’s enough, growing up. You just need one person in your corner.
I go through the arc of a relationship with every single painting that I do.
I have always been interested in people who live outside of the fabric of the norm.
I have always been very intrigued by the outside of buildings. I can just walk down the street and be content with watching facades. I don’t have to go inside.
I just follow the things I’m interested in. That’s always guided me. If I’m interested in something, that’s where I go.
I just like artist-driven projects, but for artists themselves: artist spaces, artist mentor programs, and artists buying buildings and making lofts. Doing whatever we can do. Because at the end of the day, I really think that we as a community only have each other.
I look at art as a container. You can’t get inside it, so you have to ask all of these questions.
I never expected to run into a room and suddenly I belonged. I figured people who live on the fringes of society, they’re more free. They can choose to visit anywhere; they don’t belong to anywhere. It’s like being without a nation, in a way.
I’m kind of an insecure artist. I hop from piece to piece. I always think my life depends on every painting. Every painting is my first painting.
I’ve always been inspired by small details that make me wander. My mother would ask me, ‘What are you looking at so intensely?’ I would answer, ‘Everything and nothing.’ She really supported my wanderings, called me Marco Polo.
If Home Depot doesn’t have it, Mark Bradford doesn’t need it.
In North America, what happens often is that they put race before nationhood. Everyone here is Hispanic-American, Chinese-American, African-American. But really, we’re just North Americans of all these different descents. The only time I notice North Americans becoming national is when a war happens or a crisis happens.
In the city, you’re always looking around, observing everything. In some neighborhoods, your life can depend on it. The details change constantly.
In the neighborhood where my studio is, in South Central Los Angeles, there are a lot of immigrant-owned businesses. I’m constantly amazed at the level of work they do. It’s above anything. For me, I think I pattern myself on that work ethic.
Life, work – it’s all very organic and fluid, a laboratory. I always tell people: whatever your thing is, you just have to be in it. Jump in; you’ll figure it out.
My mom was a free spirit, and she brought me up to be a free spirit.
My mom was an orphan, and there was never anybody to tell her what she could or couldn’t do. At the core, she’s probably an artist – an artist and a feminist.
That’s how I make work. Along the way, I take notes, I read about history and popular culture. Sometimes I act out things in the studio. I go back to my mother’s hair salon so I can hear three voices going all at once. I pull inspiration from everything.
The freeways create economic and racial borders in Los Angeles. South of Interstate 10 is one group of people, west of the 10 another, and south of the 405 North yet another.
The funny thing about being creative is that, especially high school people, I kept noticing I’d always go to these certain materials. I’d always be picking up trash and picking up paper and using it.
The narrative oftentimes is that everything that comes out of the hood is ‘real,’ and so I thought, ‘I’ll base it on the absurd, the not real. I’ll twist the idea of real on its head and see if I can get away with it. I’ll make paintings that come not from a place but through an abstract gaze.’
The police pull up in back of my car and run my plates – they don’t see you as you are; they see you through a racialized negative gaze. I think the best thing is not to internalize it too much, or it’ll make you crazy because you know it’s going to happen again.
The sheer density of advertising creates a psychic mass, an overlay that can sometimes be very tense or aggressive. As a citizen, you have to participate in that every day. You have to walk by until it’s changed.
When I was thirteen, I was in a supermarket with my mother, and for no reason at all, I picked up a science-fiction book at the checkout stand and started reading it. I couldn’t believe I was doing that, actually reading a book. And, man, it opened up a whole new thing. Reading became the sparkplug of my imagination.
When you’re as tall as I am, you have no public privacy. People are constantly coming up and talking to you. Constantly. You have one of two ways to go: you engage with people, or you become really bitter. I choose to engage.
You either have to find a way to be really creative materially, or you better have a trust fund. And, last I checked, I didn’t have a trust fund.