Paige Bradley: the sculptress who teaches us the beauty of rebirth
by Francesca Callipari
Interview with the internationally renowned American artist who enchanted the world with the work "Expansion".
As much as I try to avoid labeling myself, I am a figurative artist in everything I do. The figure to me is the perfect vehicle to communicate the human condition. My definition of success is to be a visionary through truthful and courageous artwork, work that communicates what it feels like to be alive in the world today.
In exclusive for I Love Italy News we are pleased to present today an artist of great talent. She is an internationally renowned sculptress who has managed to combine a very classical art form, set on figurative works that have a strong communicative function, with a modern vision that permeates her artworks managing to involve the viewer, wrapping him in a vortex of emotions from which he comes out changed, transformed and reborn.
We are talking about Paige Bradley, a Californian sculptress best known for her work "Expansion", a sculpture depicting a cross-legged woman in a meditative position who, taking up the idea of the ancient technique of Kintsugi, is characterized by cracks and internal lighting, thus having a spectacular and very suggestive effect. The sculpture, installed for the first time in Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, has become viral through the press and social media. Worthy of note is another artwork titled "Surrender Containment", beaten by the auction house Christie's in New York.
In all her works, the artist deals with important issues such as freedom, female emancipation, rebirth, inner strength, etc., showing an immediate language, a lively style, energetic, never banal, that gives to her sculpture dynamism and expressive strength, making them almost fluid, free to move in the surrounding space.
On I Love Italy News magazine we had already mentioned this brilliant sculptress in the review of the painting "The depths of spirituality" realized by Giampiero Murgia. In order to pay homage to Paige Bradley, the Italian artist inserted in his artwork a figurative element on the side of the "heart" of the painting that strongly recalls the work "Expansion". In the painting, this figure represents the main guiding spirit of an ascetic path of humanity, which is, in fact, the central theme of the work of Giampiero Murgia (click here to learn more).
Let's get to know Paige Bradley better:
First of all, Paige... welcome and thank you so much for accepting our invitation! We are deeply honored and sure that you will be very appreciated by our readers, especially by those artists that will find in yourself a model to inspire them.
Thank you for inviting me.
Taking into consideration that our magazine is called I Love Italy, I would like to start this interview by asking you how important has been your study period in Florence? Do you think that it was a turning point for your artistic growth?
- My time in Italy was truly wonderful. I cannot list all the fantastic things I experienced now, but it truly added to my growth as an independent female, and my depth as an artist. I spent most of my time pretending Michelangelo and I knew each other. I know it sounds crazy, but it seemed to be the best way to fulfill my own dreams and aspirations. I needed to look to his life and walk in his footsteps. I went to the place where Michelangelo first got a job a Ghirlandaio's studio, painting as an apprentice. I went to Pietrasanta, place where he stayed for a certain period, when he didn't want to do any more painting on the Sistine ceiling. I stood before the Loacoon as Michelangelo must have; in awe at the multi-figure composition that surely inspired my favorite work of his, the Deposition Pieta. I went into the bowels of Medici Chapel where he hid while Firenze was being sacked, and there his drawings are still on the walls. I went to Milan to see the sculpture Michelangelo last touched before he died of pneumonia, a work that shows true enlightenment of life and death. One of the last things I did was travel to the British museum and sketch from his drawings. I could feel his lines on the page, the marks in the stone, the footprints through the city... and I felt like I truly knew him. I would not fail to carry his torch forward.
Reading your biography, I learned that you dreamed of becoming an artist since childhood and, thanks to your determination and your talent, you managed to cast your first bronze work at the age of 17 years! Creativity has always been inherent in you... but, at what point in your life did you feel that you have finally realized your great dream?
- Paige responds When someone (I did not know) bought my sculpture from a gallery for the very first time, I pictured them taking it home and placing it somewhere where they could touch it daily. This gave me my first feeling of accomplishing something important. I remember feeling that it was a signpost along the journey-not an arrival-- but it was significant. Having someone who did not know me, purchase something I made, because it was meaningful in their heart, inspired me to make more. People loving my work continues to drive me to work on days when its hard to get to my studio. I have a job to do and no one can do it for me. Its an important job because now I know, my voice is a voice for others too.
No doubt, the artwork that has brought you international success is "Expansion", which, referring, maybe, to the Japanese philosophy and artistic technique of Kintsugi, seems well to embody the meaning of life! Life, in fact, in addition to the positive sides, also consists of pain, falls and scars that in this work become "precious", that is, our winning weapon to be reborn. Please, could you explain as your artwork was born and what was your state of mind when you were making it? In your opinion, could we affirm that, in a certain sense, this work changed your approach to sculpture? In other words, brought you a plus in communicational terms?
- I actually had not heard of Kintsugi until many years after my creation of Expansion. While it might have similar meanings, it was not my initial driving force on the piece. You are correct about the embodiment of LIFE. I wanted to capture the soul in something that had forever felt cold and lifeless. I wanted to take something that seemed eternally still and make it flicker with movement and energy. I wanted to shatter the ceiling of what people thought of my art: traditional, classical, accurate. It is contemporary. Its about the NOW. I wanted to bring in the chaos of nature and allow it to take over and control the work. I needed to trust the process and relinquish my own need to be perfect. I wanted to let go and expand. It is not a 'performance' piece, though I just dropped it and allowed it to crack as nature would have it. It is a 'conceptual' work that goes far beyond the figure. It resonates with so many on different levels that it seems to have grown into its own meanings. This is the power of art.
A certain dualism connects your works as an imaginary thread: the contrast between beauty and ugliness, freedom and imprisonment, movement and immobility. How do you choose the themes to deal with in your sculptures? Are they the result of a long process of ideation or the ideas come to you in an instinctive way?
- Life is full of contradictions and dichotomies. The saying, "you can't have your cake and eat it too." Or "god doesn't give with both hands" are sayings that remind me there is always something we must let go of in order to grab on to something else. When I feel like I have finally arrived at something beautiful, I look back at my journey and think of how it was often dark and painful. Life is never completely one way or another. There are millions of variants; grey areas that confound us and keep us tangled and conflicted. This is merely the human journey. The beauty is found within the truth of seeing something the way it really is, and loving yourself anyway. I try to connect to that honesty-that humanity-through my artwork.
In art history manuals sculpture has been considered since ancient times a male prerogative. However, many studies have gradually allowed us to discover many female artists who for centuries had remained in oblivion. Even if, fortunately, this is no longer the case today, women, especially in the arts, have often to work harder to show their talent. In your artistic career, have you ever felt undervalued as a woman/artist?
- I have often felt valued differently. When I was younger, I was told I was 'too pretty' to be such a good artist. That was crazy! I don't know what people expected a good artist to look like, but I always cared about staying fit, because sometimes I would need to model for myself. In high school I wanted to fit in with other artists and smoke, get tattoos, piercings, and color my hair orange. But I didn't need my outside appearance to reaffirm that I was an artist on the inside. I knew who I was, and I didn't need to change my appearances to show other people. There is also the very obvious factor of a woman artist falling into art-world oblivion if (or when) she becomes a mother. A good mom will move the whole world aside for her kids. Knowing how important it is for kids to see a working mom, running her own world, and be someone who they can be proud of and emulate is important. Often making art is not something that fits into a 9-5 work schedule. For me, its been a terribly hard balancing act over the last decade, but I know I will look back on this time and see that being a mom has also made me a better artist. However, the famous artist, Tracy Emin, says, "I don't think I'd be making work [if I were a mother]. I would have been either 100 per cent mother or 100 per cent artist...Having children and being a mother... It would be a compromise to be an artist at the same time." All I can say is, that I have experienced a full bouquet of life by being a mother. It is my greatest accomplishment of all. Even if I cannot keep up with the productivity of my male counterparts now that I have children, I would never change a thing. It is just another duality that can be found in my work; the price and the joys of mothering is part of my human journey. There is a natural difference in the male and female artists' egos. I'm not saying one is better than the other, just different. I love to work with a team of artisans. In doing this, I have to let my ego go a bit. I want to listen to others' perspectives and appreciate their professionalism. The male artists I have met seem to power through with healthy egos, without much attention to the periphery. This plays well to galleries and collectors because then they feel like they are in the midst of greatness. Maybe this is why the male artist has the majority of pages in art history books. I have a more feminine approach with my ego, where I try to be more inclusive in the process. I like to learn, watch, listen and empathize. A good example of this is one evening at a show, when I was approached by a collector who asked the meaning of a sculpture I created titled "Spring". I gave her a long-winded explanation of the meaning of the work and why I created it. Then she quietly said, "Would you like to know what it means to me?" Of course! Why didn't I think of asking HER first? Yes! And then she said, "The sculpture, Spring, rises. She is my remission from cancer." (Wow!) From that point on, I went in to my public shows with soft eyes and a big heart. My ego would have no place here. My art was for everyone.
In conclusion, would you like to mention something about your projects (events, new works to be realized... objectives)?
- I am always working towards my next best piece. Just because I have a famous sculpture or two, doesn't mean I have 'made it'. I am always trying to push the boundaries and invent new ways of capturing the human spirit in today's world.
Thank you so much for your availability and we hope to see your masterpieces soon in our country, in order to allow to our followers to meet them live and why not... to meet you also!
- I hope to have a show in Italy someday soon too! Thank you!
I hope my journey can inspire others and at the least show the world that a woman who is a wife, a daughter, and a mom can still be an artist who can shake preconceived paradigms. Once we find our unique voice in life, it is not complete until we pay it forward.