Artist to Know: Katherine Bradford

Liz Catalano
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Paintings from Contemporary Artist Come Under the Hammer with Barridoff Galleries

When asked to describe her work in three words, American artist Katherine Bradford chose “sparkly peopled landscapes.” Taken at face value, this description is accurate. Bradford, though considered a fixture of both the New York and Maine art scenes, is not closely aligned with any contemporary or historical art movement. Her status as a near-outsider artist has allowed her to explore a painting style based more on emotion and memory than technique. It now serves as a backdrop for discussions of social issues and personal experiences.

Three works from Bradford will be offered in Barridoff Galleries’ upcoming Summer International Fine Art Auction on August 15th, 2020. Running both online and in a limited live session at 3:00 PM EDT, this auction will present three early Bradford paintings. Explore her life and artistic development before the sale starts.

Katherine Bradford with a painting. Image from Erin Little Photography.
Katherine Bradford with a painting. Image from Erin Little Photography.

Unlike many creatives, Bradford never engaged with art during childhood. Her mother discouraged it, linking creativity to a lifestyle of alcoholism and drug addiction. Bradford spent her early adult years following a more conventional life path, as a result, settling down with a husband and two children. She reached a breaking point in her 30s, however, realizing during a strategic lunch that she needed both personal and professional change. “I didn’t want to be there for one more lunch. So, when the people came down the driveway to our home, I jumped out a window and ran to my studio,” she told Jennifer Samet of Hyperallergic in 2016.

Following this moment, Bradford began pursuing art more seriously. Having never attended art school or received formal training, her style grew organically. Bradford’s works began exploring consistent subjects, including swimmers, galaxies, and superheroes. She regularly uses soft, dream-like colors and simple forms to explore deeper ideas about memory, experience, relationships, and sexuality.

“Bradford’s figures are all generically human yet singular in their execution, as if they tripped out of the brush and landed in unpredictable ways… And hidden in her cavalier brushwork are wise and focused decisions,” wrote Michael Frank Blair after the artist’s exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas.

Katherine Bradford, Sail Boat, 2011. Image from Barridoff Galleries.
Katherine Bradford, Sail Boat, 2011. Image from Barridoff Galleries.

By the early 2010s, Bradford had established herself in the world of contemporary art. Oceans, night skies, and looming ships made frequent appearances in her work. Each of the paintings presented in the upcoming auction touches upon these established themes. Sail Boat, a 2011 oil on canvas piece, merely suggests the shape of its titular subject. Hovering above a dark and undefined form is the sail, placed slightly off-center and colored in hazy shades of rose and violet. Formerly in a private Connecticut collection, this work is offered with a presale estimate of USD 6,000 to $8,000.

Another available piece, titled Giant Stacks, pictures the imposing red smokestacks of a ship ($2,500 – $3,500). The backgrounds of this and similar works have been likened to color field painting, with some sections calling back to Rothko. The oldest Bradford painting in this auction is from 1995, an untitled turquoise and brown piece that evokes the human eye ($800 – $1,200).

Katherine Bradford, Couple on Purple, c. 2010. Image from Phillips.
Katherine Bradford, Couple on Purple, c. 2010. Image from Phillips.

Market interest for Bradford’s paintings has recently picked up. By 2017, they began selling above their high estimates rather than passing unsold. One early green and gray gouache on paper painting reached $4,063 with Rago, exceeding its high estimate of $700 nearly sixfold. During a recent Phillips auction, held in early March of 2020, her Couple on Purple acrylic painting sold for $12,500 after an estimate of $2,000 to $3,000. 

This trend runs parallel to a marked change in the nature and subject matter of Bradford’s art. Her works have long served as “a psychological placeholder, a container for a remembered feeling or mood.” Recent paintings now overlay this with political commentary, subtly exploring gender roles, race, and death. One of these 2019 pieces achieved HKD 200,000 (USD 25,800) after 14 bids at Sotheby’s Hong Kong this past May.

Bradford’s paintings are held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Portland Museum of Art, and others. She continues to paint, exhibit, and donate her work to various artist relief funds and social causes.

Bidding for the mentioned three paintings will begin at 3:00 PM EDT on August 15th, 2020. Visit Bidsquare for more information and to browse the complete catalog.

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