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Artist David Bradley had a stint in the Peace Corps
Artist David Bradley had a stint in the Peace Corps
Painter David Bradley returns to Minnesota with a colorful celebration of native themes
Mary Abbe, Star Tribune
May 28, 2004ART0528
Many a cliché and amusing corner of popular American life -- especially in Santa Fe, N.M., and northern Minnesota -- is satirized in the clever, folk-style paintings of David Bradley. Paul Bunyan, Bill Clinton, Gen. Custer and Grant Wood's "American Gothic" spin through his art along with crowds of art groupies, treaties between the U.S. government and Indian nations, the star-filled skies and deep lakes of Northern Minnesota and the sandy cliffs of New Mexico.
Bradley titled his new show at Ancient Traders Gallery in Minneapolis "Restless Native . . . Coming Home," in honor of his childhood in Minnesota and youth in Minneapolis. A member of the Mississippi Band of White Earth Chippewa, Bradley graduated in 1979 from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, where he and his family live. His biography refers to studies at what is now the University of St. Thomas and the University of Arizona, Tucson, a stint in the Peace Corps, and a life deeply rooted in the Southwest and his home state.
Bradley evidently thinks of himself as something of a tumbleweed, rootless and impatient. He called a 1991 show of his art that traveled to the Plains Museum in Fargo, N.D., and elsewhere "Restless Native," too. Nothing fidgety is evident in his art.
Colorful, witty and meticulously rendered, his paintings, collages and mixed-media pieces depict the world with amused detachment, noting its hypocrisies and foibles but also honoring good people, respecting history and celebrating long friendships. In an often cynical age, his work has a guileless intelligence that's terrifically appealing.
The art world of Santa Fe is famously clichéd -- a swirl of rich Texans, over-tanned socialites and barely incognito celebrities sipping margaritas served by poor locals, to the tune of mariachi music played by sombrero-wearing Hispanics. They're all there in Bradley's Giclee prints titled "Pictures at an Exhibition" and "Santa Fe Indian Market." Set in an imaginary gallery closely modeled on a prominent Santa Fe institution, "Pictures" depicts a reception attended by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Georgia O'Keeffe, the Lone Ranger and his sidekick, Tonto, among others. Minnesotans might appreciate the appearance of a WCCO-TV camera filming it all.
In the companion "Market" scene, Santa Fe is transformed into a capitalist theme park with the town's famous plaza ringed with designer shops (Gucci, Starbucks), bogus native emporiums (Abdul's Indian Jewelry) and trinket stores (Quick Sell Junkhouse). Even Tonto shows his political stripes, sporting an American Indian Movement patch on his fringed sleeve.
In the 2004 painting "Canyon Road Cantina," Bradley captures the high- octane atmosphere of a hot spot in which Bill and Hillary Clinton dine at a corner table while Carlos Santana performs on the tiny stage, Whistler's mother nods under an O'Keeffe painting and the Lone Ranger and Tonto play cards with Vincent Van Gogh.
Bradley portrays Indian leaders, particularly Hole-in-the-Day, a prominent Chippewa chief, in vivid colors and crisp designs reminiscent of the work of Pop artists Robert Indiana, Andy Warhol and Indian painter T. C. Canon. In "Treaty Dollar," he places a portrait of Sitting Bull at the center of a mock "Federal Reservation Note."
Bradley is particularly skillful at appropriating familiar designs for Indian themes: an Indian Mona Lisa with demurely folded hands, and several variations on Grant Wood's iconic "American Gothic." One "Gothic" interpretation features an attractive Indian couple; two others star Minnesota couples -- art collectors Dorothy and Richard Nelson, and Star Tribune contributing writers Susan and Jim Lenfesty.
Nothing quite tops "American Gothic: Paul Bunyan and Babe," in which the stalwart lumberjack has, as Bradley explains in a gallery brochure, "retired from logging to run a resort in Northern Minnesota" with his flirtatious blue-skinned pal, who apparently "has a thing for Paul."
While Bradley's gentle satires will elicit many a smile, his tributes to two of Minnesota's most important Ojibwe artists, Patrick Desjarlait (1921-1972) and George Morrison (1920-2000), are the show's highlight. Portrayed in their prime, the men are shown in settings that allude to their most important works -- Desjarlait's 1946 watercolor of native fishermen hauling their catch from Minnesota's Red Lake, and Morrison's wood mosaic on the facade of the American Indian Center in Minneapolis. Their smiling, vigorous presence is a benediction on this generous, big-hearted show.
IF YOU GO
Restless Native . . .Coming Home
What: Paintings, collages and mixed-media pieces by Minnesota-born White Earth Chippewa artist David Bradley, who now lives in Santa Fe, N.M.
When: Thru July 10.
Where: Ancient Traders Gallery, 1113 E. Franklin Av., Mpls.
Review: Stylish, sophisticated and often humorous, Bradley's art honors his Ojibwe roots while poking fun at Indian and Anglo clichés including Santa Fe's Indian Market and Grant Wood's "American Gothic."
Tickets: Free. 612-870-7555 or www.aibdc.com.
Mary Abbe is at email@example.com.