ARTIST INTERVIEW: THOMAS C. BRADLEY
© Thomas C. Bradley, Sellers Market (L) and Images (R)
Born in Oklahoma, Thomas C. Bradley received his BFA at Maryland Institute College of Art. After 10+ years in the design industry, Thomas began painting in January of 2017. Within a few months he was offered his first solo show, and by June of that same year exhibited his first body of work titled ‘Many Paintings of Sound Composition and Inoffensive Material’ in a gallery in New York City.
His work echoes his tastes as a graphic artist. Whether he is utilizing rules of logo construction, reinterpreting a favourite designer’s book cover, or painting advertising flash directly from his clip art library, Thomas’s work perpetually intertwines commercial and fine art.
As ten years worth of pent-up work begin to take shape, Thomas finds his tastes rapidly evolving. He describes his current work as a combination of hard-edge abstraction and graphic readymades, rooted in pop art and postmodern sensibilities. Thomas’ sources of inspiration stretch from Baldessari to corporate graphic standards manuals.
Thomas now lives in Portland, Oregon where he runs a multidisciplinary creative studio called Famous Charm with his wife Haley Ann Bradley. He is actively generating new work for his next collection and is not presently represented by an agency or gallery.
We are delighted to feature Thomas’ artwork in Curatorial, Leaders in Contemporary Art Volume.1 and (2019) and 2 (2020). We spoke to Thomas about what inspires his creative practice, his latest exhibition, Trophies Unlimited and what’s he’s planning in the future.
Hello Thomas! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today, we’re looking forward to learning more about your work. Please, could you start by introducing yourself?
Howdy, folks. My name’s Thomas, but my friends call me Thomas. If you read to the end you get a prize.
After a decade of working in the design industry, you began painting in 2017. Could you explain how and why painting entered your creative practice?
A lot of reasons. I realized that I was starting to find more inspiration in painting than in design. I had learned the fundamentals of painting in college and had recently been trying my hand at sign painting, so I knew I was physically capable. Also because of the shifts in the political landscape in the US at the time. I felt the need to more actively participate in the arts. It felt like the right change to make in my life.
How did your relationship with art begin? Could you share some of your early influences?
My parents have always been super encouraging. As long as I had a piece of paper and a cup of crayons in front of me, I’d behave at restaurants. I grew up in the middle of the US away from big nice art galleries, so the fine arts were something I really only experienced in books. But people told me I was good at drawing so I kept doing it. In high school I got into graffiti. That led to typography and design in college. And so on.
What, or who inspires you today?
First of all, my wife. If it weren’t for her I would have stopped this foolishness a couple years ago. Besides that lately B. Thom Stevenson, Corita Kent and Borna Sammak. Also Warhol’s early work around ‘61 and his super late work around ‘85-86.
We’re delighted to have the opportunity to include your work in Curatorial Volume.1, Leaders in Contemporary Art, could you tell us about the work you have featured ‘Drinking Buddies’, ‘Modern Luxury’ and ‘Foreign Architecture’.
All three were built on grid based on the compositional rule of thirds. I had a general idea of what I wanted to portray, but restricted myself to use only basic arcs and lines, hard-edge blocking, and a limited color palette. I designed them like I would a logo. My goal was to make them visually appeal to a wide audience. I wanted to see if they could sell. And it worked.
We’re also thrilled to be working with you again, and featuring your latest work in our second edition of Curatorial, out in 2020. We would love to find out about your current work. Could you explain how this differs from the series we featured in the first edition?
The work from the first edition of Curatorial was from my first body of work titled “Many Paintings of Sound Composition and Inoffensive Material.” And that’s what it was. I wanted to see if I could make paintings that would visually appeal to a wide audience. I wanted to see if I could get away with painting. It was pretty well received, so since then I’ve gotten more adventurous. My latest body of work more closely resembles my own graphic interests. It pulls a lot of direct reference from sources of inspiration. Like, really directly. I’m painting other people’s artwork that inspires me.
Himali Singh Soin, the winner of the 2019 Frieze Artist Award, says “Art is inherently political. I don’t know about making political art as such, because that tends to be bad. But I do think artists have to be good citizens.” Do you agree with her that art is inherently political, and if so, how do you communicate this in your work?
Absolutely. Whether you’re making it, looking at it, talking about it or buying it, any participation in the arts is a political act. Especially under a government that is taking active measures to eliminate funding for public institutions of art.
You recently opened a new show, ‘Trophies Unlimited’ at Portland’s One Grand Gallery. The work you’re featuring created in tribute to the graphic design of late capitalism, and features graphic material from a vast array of sources, both new and nostalgic. Your creative practice began in graphic design, and uniquely combines commercial and fine art. Can you tell us about this new body of work, and what messages or themes you’re seeking to convey?
This latest body of work revolves more around the graphics I remember seeing as a kid right before computers began to dominate the design industry. I’m a big fan of clip art, logos and typography from around that time, so this work pulls pretty heavily from that.
Besides that, my work means more to me now. It’s talking about a range of topics from poverty, consumerism, gentrification, social media, climate change denial, the polarized points of view regarding the US’s current “presidential” administration. It doesn’t shout about it, but it’s there. To me anyway. For anyone else it might mean something totally different. Ant that’s what it’s all about.
Scroll to see more photos from Thomas C. Bradley’s show, ‘Trophies Unlimited’
Portland, OR is world-renowned for its unique culture, music and food scene. What are your top five places for visitors to get an authentic experience and do their bit to ‘Keep Portland Weird’?
Oooof. First of all, you need to leave that Portlandia fixed-gear IPA moustache wax back in the mid-2000’s where it belongs. I’m no native, but Portland has changed a lot over the last dozen years since I moved here. Stumptown Coffee sold to some holding company in Luxembourg and Voodoo Doughnuts killed a guy in Denver. Seriously.
But to answer your question, you should visit Dig a Pony on a Sunday or Monday afternoon right when it opens at 4pm, order a cheeseburger and some drinks at the bar and just watch the local flavor walk past the windows until the sun goes down. If you’ve got more time, Bless Your Heart Burgers and Hey Love for food, West End Select Shop for shopping, Doug Fir Lounge for a live show, and tune in to 91.1 KXRY on your FM radio while you sit in traffic along the way.
PS, it’s Austin that needs to be kept weird. Portland stole that slogan from the Austin Independent Business Alliance in 2003.
Finally, could you tell us about what you have planned for the next year?
I wish I knew. Maybe I don’t. My wife and I run our own creative studio, and every day is really actually a new adventure. I’d like to keep it that way.