Profile: Mark Bradford (1961-)

Mark Bradford is a contemporary African-American artist. Working in a wide-ranging conceptual practice, he best known for his multimedia abstract paintings whose laborious surfaces hint at the artist’s excavation of emotional and political terrain. “For me, it’s always a detail—a detail that points to a larger thing,” he observed of his process. “I start to imagine what it points to, and that’s when my imagination really goes.” Born in 1961 in Los Angeles, CA, Bradford studied at the California Institute of the Arts, graduating with an MFA in 1997. His work often displays the atrocities and struggles of race and poverty, as seen in his site-specific installation Help Us (2008). In the work, the artist displayed pieces of wood salvaged from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on top of Los Angeles building, spelling out “HELP US,” recalling the desperation of hurricane survivors on New Orleans rooftops. In 2017, Bradford represented the United States pavilion at the Venice Biennale with his work Tomorrow is Another Day. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, among others.

Early Life

Bradford was born and raised in South Los Angeles. His mother rented a beauty salon in Leimert Park. Bradford moved with his family to a largely white neighborhood in Santa Monica when he was 11, but his mother still maintained her business in the old neighborhood.  Bradford worked in her shop at times. When Bradford graduated high school, he obtained his hairdresser’s license and went to work at his mother’s salon.

Bradford began his studies at the California Institute of the Arts in 1991 at the age of 30. He earned a BFA in 1995 and an MFA in 1997.



Bradford expanded on his use of found materials as he developed his artistic style, incorporating everything from peeling movie posters to salvaged plywood into his layered, abstracted creations. The result is a combination of collage and paint.

Bradford isn’t afraid to tackle tough subject matter in his work. The majority of his pieces deal with issues of race, gender, and class in American society. His first survey expedition, Mark Bradford, shows the breadth of his work. Pieces created from 1997 to 2010 are included, featuring installations, paintings, sculptures, and videos. The survey expedition is presented by Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts. His work has been exhibited at locations including the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. Other well-known works by Bradford include A Thousand Daddies, Across 110th Street, and Help Us. Help Us is an especially poignant piece, for which Bradford created an installation on the roof of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh for the 2008 Carnegie International. The installation, inspired by the victims of Hurricane Katrina, can only be seen by aerial view; it spells out the words “HELP US.” Bradford has won several awards for his work, including the Nancy Graves Foundation Grant in 2002, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award in 2003, the Bucksbaum Award in 2006, and the MacArthur Fellowship in 2009. Bradford’s work can be seen at the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. gallery in New York.

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