photo of Katherine Bradford '64

Mark maker

This fall the campus welcomed the art of Katherine Bradford '64, whose paintings express predicaments, accidents, and the solitary awkward person aspiring to grace. "I guess I'm not into perfection," Bradford said during her talk at the October 25 opening.

Erdman Hall's foyer hosted her larger oil paintings, mostly of bathers or swimmers submerged in water. Bradford chose these scenes of leisure and relaxation specifically for Erdman when she saw "harried students rushing through with all the cares of the world." An exception is a smaller work hung 12 feet from the floor-the foot of a trapeze artist inches from a swing, a precarious moment.

Smaller drawings were on display in Canaday Library, among them the "Shavers" series, depicting close-ups of figures shaving legs and armpits, some nicking themselves. The shavers are caught in the "tension between a private act and public display," Bradford said. "I try to give my vulnerable figures dignity. I'm quite aware of their fragile nature as they stick their legs into the frame for all of you to see. They're not beautiful."

The shavers were inspired when Bradford's son asked her to illustrate his short story collection. In one story the narrator turns into a dog after being bitten, growing fur. Bradford drew him shaving the fur off his leg. (Arthur Bradford's Dogwalkers was published in 2001. For an interactive version of a story, featuring Bradford's drawings, see the publisher's website.

"I remembered those days of shaving my legs," said Bradford, "and the clean erasure mark it made. I would describe myself, as an artist, as being a mark maker, neither abstract nor representational, but interested in touch. I thought that shaving mimicked the act of drawing. It's a sort of ritualistic, very primitive way of marking one's self. I saw it as a humorous situation."

Bradford also said the shavers series comments on the "dirty business" of painting; the act of making art is crude and primitive, involving "muck and fluid."

Many figures in Bradford's paintings are tenuous, such as the "Woman Flying," whom she sees in a state of longing rather than of accomplishment, trying to do something for which she is unequipped. "In that sense we can connect with her on an everyday level more than we might with a super-hero."

Bradford pointed out the new technology in the show. Some of the smaller paintings feature digital reproductions of scenes from the larger paintings. One smaller painting, "Women Artists," shows the digitalized heads of Frieda Kahlo and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Despite showing Kahlo and O'Keeffe and scenes of shaving and fastening a bra, Bradford insists she is not a political artist. "I think you can take all this work in that direction," she said. "However, I fall down on the side of humor, self-deprecating humor, and making us laugh at ourselves."

Bradford dedicated the show to her mother, Anita Fouilhoux Houston '34, who attended the opening, and her grandmother, Jean Clark Fouilhoux, Class of 1899. "My mother prefers my paintings that are landscape related rather than the ones with figures in them," she said. "I've learned a lot from my son, who publishes stories that I think should be changed or are objectionable in some way. So in the end I decided that the series showing swimmers and showing shavers would make a more interesting exhibit on the BMC campus, even though I knew my mother would probably not like them."

During her junior year in Paris, Bradford took art history courses and "spent a lot of time in museums looking at paintings. I remember hearing one of my professors in France say he thought that Gauguin's colors were 'in bad taste.' I thought he was dead wrong, and it was a very exciting feeling because I think it was the first time I had confidence enough in my own opinions to feel that a professor could be wrong. It probably dates my first entry into the great, unwieldy and fantastic discourse that surrounds art."

Bradford teaches at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and Manhattan's Fashion Institute of Technology. She is the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant award. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Maine, and is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Portland Museum of Art.

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