I think and I draw: In conversation with Bradley Biancardi

In Bradley Biancardi’s mixed media artworks, speech bubbles with fragmented phrases and sentences hang between figures but communicate nothing. Cell phones also feature in his crowded compositions but the screens are broken or the batteries are flat. While the figures are in close proximity to one another, they remain disconnected and alone, caught up in their own private moment.

Although Bradley’s recent works are generally large-scale colorful paintings on canvas, drawing is at the foundation of his practice, and is where all his artwork originates. It’s through the process of drawing that Bradley explores composition and narrative possibilities. He studied Renaissance art history at university and incorporates the style of cinematic compositions of this period into his own art. We caught up with Bradley in his New York studio to find out more.

AMM: Hi Bradley! Have you always been a practicing artist? What are some of the milestones that have shaped your art career over the years?

BB: Hi Layla! I have been interested in the arts my entire life, and a practicing artist since my early teenage years. Music was my first love. When I was 13 I bought a guitar and started playing and writing music with my friends; quickly started a rock band, and continued playing and performing music until my mid-twenties. I was lucky to be surrounded by creative and ambitious friends who helped me to define a standard for my creative life to come. It was through music that I learned the basic foundational skills necessary to be an artist; how to think, how to improvise, how to make, how to finish, and how to fail. In my early to mid-twenties, I was part of a moderately successful Post-Rock band in Chicago. We were signed to a few record labels and were able to produce several albums and perform around the world. I was fortunate that at a young age, I received a modest degree of recognition and support from my community for my creative practice, which taught me that with hard work and sincere engagement, it’s possible to make a meaningful contribution to the larger conversation surrounding one’s medium.

AMM: Your artworks are reminiscent of comic frames with a lot of data packed into the composition. Can you please tell us a little about the way narrative figures in your art?

BB: I wasn’t crazy about comic books when I was a kid, but I read a few different Marvel stories like The Hulk, X -Men, and The Fantastic Four, also Sunday comics like Garfield, Family Circus and Peanuts, but I was also interested in Stephen King novels, and in fact I have always been interested in the Horror genre of books and movies. I always loved good stories, delivered by any medium, and it was this love combined with my undergraduate Painting and Drawing education that shaped my relationship to narrative in my artwork.

I received my BFA from Indiana University with a concentration in Painting, Drawing and a minor in Renaissance Art History. My painting program was one that emphasized ambitious, large-scale figurative painting. I studied under Robert Barnes, Eve Mansdorf and Barry Gealt. My professors encouraged students to paint beyond their technical skill level and out of their comfort zone. I studied in Florence, Italy for a year when I was 20-21 years old, where I deepened my love for grandiose Renaissance painting ­– my favorites were Giotto, Tintoretto, Pontormo, Bruegel, and Caravaggio. I responded to how cinematic the images are in Renaissance paintings; meaning that time is depicted in such a way that everything relative to the narrative is happening at the same time. This is something of which I am always conscious while composing images.

AMM: What are some of the signs and symbols you’re exploring in your visual language currently?

BB: Smart phones, yoga pants, fluorescent running shoes, cats, socks and underwear, baseballs, water bottles, knee and back pain, medications, broken and repaired things, crowns, guns, crows, keys, and many others.

‘USS Entropy / Ship is Wrecked’, 2017, mixed paint media on canvas, 66″ x 60″

AMM: I read in a previous interview that you consider yourself first and foremost a drawer. Can you tell us a little about the mediums you work in and why, and also how drawing translates into these other mediums?

BB: I have worked in many mediums through the years, but currently I am concerned with making paintings and relief prints (primarily woodblock prints). Always, and in all of my artwork, ideas are generated and processed through the act of drawing. I have been drawing since I was a child, and it’s my familiarity with the medium coupled with the inherent immediacy of drawing that allows for my incipient ideas to quickly and freely develop. I have adopted and invented different drawing-based processes in both my paintings and my prints, but I think that visually and at-first-glance, it seems that my woodblock prints are a more direct manifestation of my drawings, in large part because they are black and white, and also the finished pieces are closer in scale.

AMM: What is your process of working?

BB: I think and I draw. When I’m creating an image at its inception, whether a painting or print, I am thinking a lot about composition within the rectangle and the narrative possibilities. I think about how my eye will travel around the image as it reads the visual story. I think about balance and rhythm (often I relate musically to images because of my background), about harmony and dissonance (both visual and cognitive), and about beauty and unpredictability. I am always searching for ways to remove technical dexterity from my process – to surprise myself and to trick my hand in order to maintain a sense of freshness. In both my prints and my paintings, I produce several drawings before I start either carving the block or marking on the canvas. In the case of the prints, the final images remain truer to the original drawings simply because there is no scale shift in translation. With the paintings, the scale amplification as well as the longer-term engagement with the work allow for invention to occur throughout the entire painting process. For me, working on a painting requires a constant questioning throughout the entire production process, while in printmaking, there are equal parts of invention and labor; in other words, there are moments when questioning isn’t necessary, just the physical making. I like and I need both methods of working to be satisfied.

AMM: Color and kind of wry humor are evident in your work. Are the two connected at all? Please tell us a little about these two aspects of your art.

BB: Color obviously plays a large role in my finished paintings, but I admit that it is definitely a minor consideration at the beginning stages of the process. At most, I may decide something along the lines of “I want this painting to be mostly red”, or similarly general intentions with regards to color. Like I mentioned earlier, first I think about drawing, composition, and narrative; then when I feel as though I have a stable foundation with these elements, I start to consider the nature and quality of the surface via the mark-making, color, and also how these choices will relate to the narrative, as well as to the characters and objects depicted in the painting. There is a great deal of invention that takes place through the entire painting process until the end. I have always felt that I don’t possess an inherent facility with color, like some other painters do. Understanding this, I often depend on my savvy drawing skills during the more vulnerable stages of my painting process; though I do think that I’m starting to become a better colorist.

Humor is everywhere in life if one chooses to see it, and it definitely exists in the art and media that I consume daily, as well as in my personal life and social relationships. In my artwork, I try to find a natural balance of humor, seriousness, oddity and realism. However, I don’t intentionally try to compose humorous narratives, I simply leave some space for humor to exist if someone chooses to see it.

AMM: I heard recently that the current generation writes more than any previous generation. Many of your recent paintings include speech bubbles with fragmented text and cell phones. Are you interested in the effects of social media and technology on our sense of connection and ability to communicate? Does this feature in your work at all?

BB: Yes and yes! I include imagery in my artwork that alludes to modern life’s absurdities, which can be seen as having negative and/or positive effects on our sense of connection with each other and our ability to communicate with one another; and sometimes the imagery is simply life’s superfluous nuance.

Admittedly, I am jealous of the baby-boomers for living in the time that they do/did, and I am extremely nostalgic for a time before cell phones and smart phones, email, cloud-based data storage, extinction of privacy, and the deterioration of previously-innate human abilities like memory, sense of direction, cognitive deduction, basic arithmetic skills, real-time and in-person conversation, social etiquette, eye contact, and so on. Yet with all of the de-skilling and “dumbing-down” that seems to be an unfortunate side-effect of our growing dependence on new technologies continuing, there is an undeniable counter-effect acting in opposition to all of these changes. People want slow food, local produce, and micro-brewed beer. Cities are starting and expanding neighborhood farms and farmers’ markets everywhere. Musicians are recording on analog equipment and vinyl record sales are the largest they’ve been since the 1970’s. Most relevant to my community, there are more artists making paintings and participating in the greater conversation surrounding contemporary art than ever before in history. So… I try to stay optimistic.

I didn’t know that this generation writes more than previous ones, but this is an interesting idea. I am a reader to be sure, and I find that writing helps to organize my thoughts surrounding my art practice, but I can’t say that I am a proper ‘Writer’. The text and ‘speech bubbles’ in the paintings are a device that I decided to employ as a way to enrich the visual narrative in my images, and in fact the way they are painted is as important to the narrative as the meaning of the words.

‘Re-Wild’, 2017, mixed paint media on canvas, 70″ x 50″

AMM: Following on from this, you give your artworks interesting if oblique titles. What is the relationship between text and visual imagery in your work?

BB: The text and the titles are clues (not answers) to the narrative meanings of the paintings. In fact, I tend to view all of the objects, characters, and dialog in the images as clues or questions, that have the potential to be formed into a larger narrative thrust.

AMM: Where do you look for daily inspiration?

BB: Personal relationships, the global news, politics, dreams, travel, other artists (past and present), music, movies and books.

AMM: What are your creative rituals in studio?

BB: I can’t tell you, because I’d have to kill you. jk

AMM: If you were a colour, which would you be and why?

BB: Hmmm…

  1. Where did the cantaloupe and the honeydew spend their summer vacation?
  2. John Cougar Mellencamp

AMM: What’s next for you?

BB: In the autumn, I’m happy to sink into a comfortable productive period in the studio.

Find out more about the artist: www.bradleybiancardi.com

Text and interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.

‘Death Through Habit’, 2018, mixed paint media on canvas, 72” x 66”