Mark Bradford

Riding the cut vein


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Not on display

Mark Bradford born 1961
Paper, varnish, silicone caulk and charcoal on canvas
Unconfirmed: 3350 × 6100 mm
Purchased with assistance from Anita and Poju Zabludowicz, Noam Gottesman, an anonymous donor, the North American Acquisitions Committee (Tate Americas Foundation) 2016


Riding the Cut Vein is a very large landscape-format painting made from layers of paper mounted onto canvas. At over six metres wide, it is one of Bradford’s largest works. Bradford makes paintings like this one by accumulating posters and sheets of coloured paper, which are soaked and pressed onto canvas and allowed to dry. Bradford works into the surface with a sander, forming lines and scrapes that reveal different layers of colour. Occasionally he uses caulking on the surface of the works as another means of creating lines. The paper that Bradford uses in his works is often sourced from merchant posters taken from the streets near his studio in the African-American neighbourhood of Leimert Park in Los Angeles, referencing French affichiste ripped poster works of the 1940s and 1950s.

This particular work is relatively unusual for Bradford primarily because rather than having an ‘allover’ composition like many of his works, it is divided by a strong diagonal line running from the top right corner to the bottom left corner, with one compositional schema in the top left part of the painting, and another in the bottom right. The artist recalled that at one stage, ‘the blue side was totally complete and the other side was blank canvas, so as I say, it was like “call and response” – creating a condition and responding to it.’ (Quoted in White Cube 2013, p.77.) He knew that it was an unusual way to work, and was surprised that the painting cohered, despite the formal divide: ‘I became fascinated by the line that divides it. Things like that aren’t normally supposed to work in painting. There are two very different compositions within this and yet somehow it holds together. I’m doing a lot of bifurcations right now, cutting the plane very aggressively.’ (Quoted in White Cube 2013, p.75.)

Because of its composition, to some the painting might seem reminiscent of the map of Bradford’s home city of Los Angeles, with the ridge of the Hollywood hills separating the city from the valley to the north. Bradford’s earlier works, such as Los Moscos 2004 (Tate T13701) often refer to the grid of the city, and he has long been interested in different ways of mapping – in the move from paper maps to online Google maps and GPS – as well as in questions of who has access to different kinds of mapping devices.

However for this particular work, Bradford was thinking about two other ideas connected to mapping. Firstly, he became interested in the history of highway construction in the United States in the period after the Second World War. His exhibition at White Cube, London in 2013 – in which this painting was first exhibited – was named after the chapter in former American President Dwight Eisenhower’s memoir titled ‘Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank’, in which Eisenhower recalled his work prior to the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (Eisenhower held office between 1953 and 1961). While in Europe in the 1940s as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, Eisenhower had been impressed by the Nazi’s construction of Autobahns (motorways) across Germany, and in the 1950s had initiated a programme of highway construction, knowing that highways could be shut down in crisis situations, with access restricted to army vehicles that could quell civic unrest. As much as it had to do with a drive for efficiency and modernisation, the impetus to build highways was therefore premised on fears about civic unrest arising from racial and class inequality. Bradford has further noted that, as a result of this infrastructure programme, African-American suburbs were regularly torn apart as these highways ‘always cut through poor neighbourhoods … A freeway is a class marker, depending on which side of the freeway you’re on.’ (In White Cube 2013, p.75.) In recalling such highways with its diagonal divide or ‘vein’, Riding the Cut Vein therefore alludes to a troubled history of urban experience in African-American neighbourhoods.

Bradford has also revealed a second context for the painting, indicating that the diagonal rift in the painting is also an allusion to the San Andreas Fault that runs across the state of California. In suggesting this, he has indicated that the work might mark a turn for him from thinking about urban maps to looking more at geological and topographical maps. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Bradford does not see Riding the Cut Vein as a landscape painting. Rather, in alluding to the fault, the work in a different way suggests the precariousness of life in California.

In its scale Riding the Cut Vein recalls the monumental achievements of abstract expressionism, but its subject is an example of what Bradford calls ‘social abstraction’ (in White Cube 2013, p.83): abstraction that speaks to contemporary political conditions and to the history and experience of African-American and other marginalised communities. Addressing his work in general, he has commented, ‘I’m always aware of where I want it to end up. I know I want it to be abstract, I know I want it to have social/political content clinging to the edges, at the fringe, and I know I want it to have a robust quality.’ (In White Cube 2013, p.77.)

Further reading
Neither New nor Correct: New Work by Mark Bradford, exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 14 September–25 November 2007.
Mark Bradford, exhibition catalogue, Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, 8 May–15 August 2010.
‘Mark Bradford in conversation with Susan May’, in Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, exhibition catalogue, White Cube, London 2013, pp.75–84.

Mark Godfrey
October 2013

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Display caption

Based in Los Angeles, Mark Bradford usually makes his paintings with torn flyers and posters culled from the streets of his African American neighbourhood, Leimert Park. These papers are soaked and pressed onto canvas, then worked into with routers and other implements. For the artist, the diagonal rift in Riding the Cut Vein suggests the highways that cross through large American cities, often dividing different classes and racial groups. At the same time the monumentality and the flashes of colour in this work create a sense of promise.

Gallery label, July 2015

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