In 2002 Bradly Brown presented an installation at Conduit Gallery in Dallas, Texas. In a small room Bradly arranged a chalkboard, cyanotype carpet panel yearbook images (more on that later), and two desks – one buried under a heaping pile of sawdust and one permeated with a precarious amount of #2 pencils. 444 pencils to be exact. And it just so happens that that is the exact amount of pencils needed if one were to draw a single line that would stretch 15,540 miles. The distance was the title of the installation itself. While every element bore its own intrigue, the most fascinating piece was one I would not see until six years after its debut at Conduit. And six years later the chalkboard is the centerpiece of Bradly’s studio, yet completely unrecognizable.
Bradly’s Brooklyn home studio has nestled in it many a nook and cranny, each packed with artwork, templates, photography, photo negatives and/or paint supplies. On the walls are pieces of his work, some brand new, some still being worked on and some from the past. Displayed prominently in a corner is a piece entitled Donkey Punch.
Affixed to the wall via hinges at the bottom and a small hook at the top, the four-foot wide by three-foot high mixed media work doubles as a photography station. Bradly demonstrates by releasing the hook and dropping Donkey Punch down to a platform. Above it, hung from the wall, are three different rolls of backdrops that he tells me are used when shooting still life photography (an occupational passion that both he and his girlfriend, Amanda Bruns, share). As he raises the piece back to its upright and locked position I notice the metal framework around the sides. “It’s the chalkboard from the installation 15,540 Miles,” he explains. With a closer look I can make out the arced line representing the distance. But what was once a simple blackboard with a chalked map of the world is now a tapestry of ink, paint and socio-political speech and imagery spanning centuries of time. I was looking at the six-year evolution of a single piece of work. Later, Bradly showed me an album cover he did for the band Megafaun. Donkey Punch took center stage but taking a look back and forth between the CD jacket and the real thing, it was easy to see the birth of new layers.
Born in El Paso, Texas with a knack and a desire to illustrate and paint, Bradly decided instead to study photography and print at the University of North Texas. It was here that he began exploring all different forms of creation. While continuing to paint and illustrate, Bradly started to pull from all that he was learning and started putting all of his knowledge into his work. These amalgams can be seen in all of his work, but the largest of these would have to be Bradly’s use of cyanotype in his series Beastly Words.
Cyanotype is a process in which a chemical, when applied to a material and exposed to ultraviolet rays, typically sunlight, will develop the coated portion of the material much like when a photograph is developed. This process gets its name from the distinct cyan blue color that results from the exposure. For example, in 15,540 Miles Bradly painted the chemical solution onto carpet panels. The portraits he did were intended to look like old yearbook photos and were hung on the wall of the room, overlooking the two desks. Bradly kept the panels covered until the installation opened, keeping them from being exposed to light. (One of the most interesting things about working with the cyanotype solution is that the process must be completed under low to no light in order to keep portions from being exposed at too early a stage. When doing larger pieces, Bradly is working as close to blind as one can get. To make things even more fun, until the material is exposed it’s extremely hard to tell where the solution has already been applied. Imagine going into a photographer’s darkroom and drawing a picture with invisible ink. Now imagine doing it on four-foot by six-foot canvases, and working on the same piece for days on end.) When the gallery opened to the public, Bradly removed the black covering from the carpet panels. At first, all the onlookers could see were blank, rectangular white pieces hanging on the wall. “Unless someone stood there for about 4 hours, no one really knew what was happening,” Bradly explained. Each viewer saw the installation a little differently. The yearbook photos developed too slowly to be noticeable to the naked eye, but as the installation went on, the light from the room slowly began developing the panels, giving every new visitor a new take on the room.
Bradly continues to work with cyanotype just as he continues to take pictures and continues to paint and continues to work with a plethora of media. His newest endeavor has him experimenting with vintage Chevrolet Impala parts and using various materials to oxidize the exterior to create images. He is currently perfecting the technique and growing a large collection of old car parts in an extra room in his apartment. (It looks a little like the set from Sanford and Son if Sanford and Son took place in a Brooklyn apartment.)
It’s easy to see that for Bradly, the joy in his artwork doesn’t come from the finished product. (Presumably because he never really knows if and when a product is finished.) Instead it’s the tinkering with ideas and the brainstorming of new collections; it’s the process that gets him there and his methodical execution that keeps him coming back for more. Bradly doesn’t create because he is an artist. He is an artist because he creates.