Bradley has been creating masterpieces out of bubble wrap for the past decade. That’s right, bubble wrap. He painstakingly injects the individual pockets of air with paint. The results are incredible. Now his work is really “popping off”…literally.
The urge to pop bubble wrap is a universal one and the undisputed master of its use as an art supply has finally decided to indulge in it. He even took it a step further with the “Evolution” exhibition at the Anna Zorina Gallery by doing it in front of a live audience. It’s a rare peek behind the studio curtain and one that is extremely satisfying to see and hear.
The Anna Zorina gallery is a crisp and beautiful art space located on a block with several others at 24th street between 10th and 11th ave. They proclaim to be “devoted to promoting the powerful positive image.” Speaking with Anna over the sounds of idle chatter echoing off the polished concrete floors, they had this to say: “A lot of artists focus on breaking boundaries, being inventive and coming up with something new. I’m trying to sort of merge art historical reference with new approaches to the medium and certainly Bradley Hart is one of the perfect examples of this.”
Upon entering the gallery visitors were met with a fresh bubble wrap portrait of Yayoi Kusama laid on the floor, carefully positioned between two ramps. Assistants armed with canvas sheets were waiting in the wings for the action to start. Once the crowd had settled, the fun began. Carefully rolling over the canvas and audibly popping the paint-filled pockets under the wheels of his scooter, Bradley describes what’s going on in his head as he attempts to envision what cannot be seen until the sheet is peeled off and the first monoprint is revealed.
Several monoprints are made from the bubble wrap underfoot. No two are alike as paint is picked up by each new canvas and Bradley alters his approach when rolling over them. Reminiscent of some Gerhard Richter portraits they are surprisingly ethereal and beautiful. Each new reveal seems more delicate and otherworldly than the last. Bradley found himself simultaneously surprised and delighted in the process when some of the earlier pulls that had been pinned up began to drip.
The artifact of the original filled wrap, nearly flattened and its image blurred are almost eerie in their realism. They are left as the final work resulting from the process and are among some of the most beautiful.
*Transcribed and paraphrased from audio*
Brandon Wisecarver: What drives the selection process for your subject matter?
Bradley Hart: “Not everything is always portraiture but typically when it comes to portraiture I’m usually selecting someone relevant to the series. For example, my living with multiple sclerosis or childhood celebrities series. I choose the people I’m immortalizing in bubble wrap because of their influence on my childhood, my upbringing, or their presence in my life. This last show was a little bit of a hodgepodge because I was more interested in showcasing the new process of popping the bubbles using the mobility scooter as the evolution of my work to create these post impressions on Canvas.
What drives this selection is the concept behind the actual show itself. In my last show before this one, for instance, which was called “This Place, This Time” it was all old masters’ works or contemporary masters’ works not the masters themselves.
They were specifically paintings that were in private collections that would never be seen again. Works that won’t be seen in museums for generations. So that show was a play on the idea that if you don’t see it in person, you’re really not getting the experience of this gentle pixelization, the sculptural expression of these paintings immortalized in bubble wrap.
Part of the conversation in all of my work is the inability to appreciate traditional fine art online in a meaningful way and using bubble wrap and the idea of pixels to exemplify this.”
BW: You only recently acted on the urge to experiment with popping the paint-filled wrap. Was there an ah-ha moment that made it happen after so many years?
BH: “I had that aha moment back in 2009, when I came up with the idea of using bubble wrap to make art in the first place. Even before injecting. Although the injecting part came within hours of thinking about using it.
Over the decade of injections popping them was just something I thought I would do in the future. I never had the courage or the appetite to do it. My paintings take so long to make! However, In 2015 and 2016 I did do little samples of my poppings. It was just something I thought I would do in the future.
I went viral in 2013 and people started talking about my work online. Everybody always said “oh, if I saw them in person, I would run up, I would pop them, I would throw my body into them.” But the reality is that my paintings are not poppable. The paint dries inside the bubble
Just before the pandemic, I had an accident and I broke my kneecap and unfortunately have not been able to recover from it which is why the mobility scooter has now become part of my life. I started to incorporate it into my art making practice, using it to pop the bubble wrap. Originally I had the idea to walk over them.”
BW: Was the performance at the Anna Zorina Gallery a first? Do you plan on making live art-making a regular aspect of your work?
BH: “Well, it was my first time doing it in a gallery. It is not my first time doing it in front of a public audience. During an open house at Manna Contemporary back in spring, I did my first popping in public and I had an audience for it. It wasn’t the same as doing it in the gallery. It wasn’t having like that Chelsea energy of people coming and going.
As to the question of having live art-making be a regular aspect of my work… I definitely feel that I’m going to continue to explore the popping series and popping paintings. I don’t feel like every painting I’m going to do is be a popping. I think that I’m going to learn more about why I want to pop certain people or paintings or images and why I don’t in others. However, in general, I do plan on making it part of my practice going forward.”
BW: What’s next for you?
BH: “I’m going to continue to explore the techniques and tools that I’ve invented and I look forward to doing more of these poppings and performances because I genuinely did enjoy doing it in front of a lot of people.”
Brandon Wisecarver is an artist and curator based in NYC.