Katherine Bradford is a painter whose works often feature poignant figures as she explores constructed social roles and ideas of loneliness. She paints faceless bathers, female superheroes, swimmers, and others in action or in repose. Her figures are abstract figurations or archetypes often interacting with one another in dream-like settings.
Bradford is an alumna of Bryn Mawr College and received her M.F.A. from the State University of New York at Purchase. From the American Academy of Arts and Letters she won an award as well as a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Bradford’s chromatic scenes, painted in transparent layers of acrylic, have a light-filled quality that deals with issues of gender and humanity. She paints her segmented figures with a dry-brush using elementary marks without details or facial features. Viewers might not be able to tell if her figures were male or female. She places them in front of layered, luminous color-field backgrounds of mostly red, pink, blue, or violet. Since the mid-2020s, Bradford has chosen to use acrylic paint rather than oil because of the vibrancy of florescent colors found only in acrylics.
Bradford usually depicts her subjects in bathing suits to avoid any suggestion of a definite historical period. She resists using details in order to show shapes rather than bodies. Her sketchy depictions of swimmers and bathers have a timeless feel. She shows them floating in space, or she shifts the perspective so that they are seen from above. Her figures are anonymous and are vessels for color and paint. Sometimes they intersect with one another or with other objects in impossible configurations. Sometimes her figures are even reduced to one single brushstroke.
Her 1999 “Woman Flying” is her first superhero painting and is a strong self-portrait. It shows a nude woman with red cape flying in a blue sky over a body of water, painted in a darker shade of blue at the very bottom of the canvas. The sense of freedom shown here continues in her “Runaway Wife” and “Woman” Series.
In her “Shell Seekers,” her subjects float on inky waves and play on beaches lit by the moon. Her fluid brushwork and layers of paint are used to reveal the atmospheric effect of the ocean. In her “Last Dive of Summer” a minimally rendered figure plunges into water under a glowing solar body; the diving platform is simply painted with a few expressive brushstrokes of deep mulberry.
She has made five public works for New York City’s MTA at the L line First Avenue stop. Two of these are “Superhero Responds,” a subway mosaic mural at the subway’s entrance and “Queen of the Night,” a mosaic inside the station.
She has exhibited in New York, the Hamptons, Los Angeles, Berlin, Milan, New Haven, Columbus, Ohio and at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
Bradford’s work is in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Portland Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Menil Collection, among others.