Bradford Carmichael, PAFA MFA
“I investigate layers. These layers are depicted in different ways: the layers of the earth’s crust, or the layers of the atmosphere are just a few. These are metaphors for the layers that make up the human condition, from the very internal to the extreme external. Reaching through this space one can engage with, among other things; history, mythology, the contemporary, and the internal.
Images are used of things which traverse these layers, emphasizing the relationship between them and to talk about them.” – Bradford Carmichael
“The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is the birthplace of American art and an incubator for artistic expression. As the country’s first fine arts school and museum, PAFA trains many great artists and is home to one of the most important collections of American art anywhere.” – Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
I met with Bradford Carmichael in the galleries at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 113th Annual Student Exhibition the day of the Patron’s Preview Party. It was very cool getting a sneak peak of the historic art show and to interview a recent graduate. The two of us talked about his thesis and aspirations among the grouping of his abstract expressionist paintings and a gold plated chainsaw on a pedestal. The art is in a prime spot by the window, separate from the other artists, the sun shined onto the canvasses while we talked. I asked if painting was his major for his Master of Fine Arts degree?.
“There is no specific major in the MFA program but I focus on drawing and painting.”
I asked Bradford how he would describe his style, is it abstract? Abstract expressionist? Expressionist?
“It’s tough to actually classify it because it’s mine. You know? Usually other people tend to classify what it is. But, you could say it’s expressionist. Neo expressionist, that would be the closest thing that would make sense. You know that sort of mid 80s expressionism where imagery was used but there’s no figure ground or anything.”
“There are all sorts of terms the critics make up where as an artist you don’t care what you call it.”
So, what’s your elevator pitch when you’re with a director of a museum?
“Do you want to see some really good paintings? And they say, ‘So, what’s so good about them?'”
“I certainly like them. I think the colors are good, the compositions work and that they’re interesting and dynamic. Not only do they involve theoretical things, they also look good. Sometimes you have dry stuff that’s dead-pan and very theoretical. Or you have other things which are beautiful but have nothing to stand on. And I’m always trying to do both.”
When you make a painting how do you start? Do you dive right in or is there preparation?
“The diptych (not pictured) was two found canvasses, so I decided to work with that. I had like this ready made painting which I had to cover up and I thought it would make it more dynamic to have other things in there that I wouldn’t paint ever because they’re by someone else. And then I used that to start the painting. Other ones, I put something down and react to it and it might change three or four times where I have to cover up the other stuff and change it, let it develop naturally instead of the traditional French style of planning everything out specifically before hand.
I do sketch. Say if I want to put a picture of a tiger here, I went into the sketchbook and did research and got the general idea of the tiger and then did the painting from the drawing. Or, if I come across an image I may like, I may do a version of it the way I would do it and save it for later. So if I need one of these right there then I know where to go find it in the sketchbook and that’s what I’ll use. It’s like an image inventory that builds up over time.”
Are you influenced by any other artists?
“Yeah! Like Basquiat and Rauschenberg and William T. Wiley for the most part. I like a whole lot of other painters but I don’t tend to be influenced by them. Basically any type of painting that’s good I like. But those are the three that have been a big influence.”
Tell me about the use of text and words in the paintings?
“Because of the subject matter. I always felt that words lend themselves to a quicker reading, pun un-intended, or if you see a picture. You know this came up in final crits the other day. If you see a picture like Van Gogh’s final painting with the crows and you see text underneath that says, ‘This was the last painting he did before he shot himself.’ It becomes more powerful. You can add a catalyst to images with words if you know how to do it..” – Bradford Carmichael
Written and photographed by DoN Brewer except where noted.
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