Mark Bradford can’t stand still. His energy — itchy, electric, fidgety — easily fills a gigantic, concrete-lined studio in south LA. His tall, beanpole stature carries with it a sense of urgency that can’t be contained. The American artist’s mannerisms say “something must be done.” And it has.
Currently representing the United States at the Venice Biennale, Bradford has tackled a number of America’s most difficult moments in history head on throughout his career — from black slavery to the LA riots in the 1990s — with a fearlessness he perhaps acquired by living on, what he once thought was, borrowed time.
As a young man in the early 1980s, Bradford was told categorically by a medical professional that, while he didn’t have HIV at the time, he was going to get it. He often nods to this moment when trying to explain where his drive comes from. As he puts it, he was “in a hurry.”
More than 30 years later and he maintains a similar pace (thought he does feel he’s more reflective now). For his latest piece, Bradford is unveiling a giant cyclorama — in other words, a 360-degree mural — titled “Pickett’s Charge.” The work was inspired by the famous “Gettysburg Cyclorama” (1883), a painting by French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux, which depicts the climax of the American civil war. Drawing from a particularly turbulent time in America’s history, it includes figurative elements of the original painting by Philippoteaux, which were turned into an abstract masterpiece.
Bradford’s mural, on display at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, comprises 8 smaller (but by no means small) commissions that together make use of the museum’s distinctive circular structure, creating a wall painting that spans nearly 400 feet.