Situated unassumingly amidst the minimalist storefronts in the heart of Brookside is Aberson Exhibits, a gallery of modern art that specializes in showing the work of mid-career local, domestic and international artists. Artistic director, Kim Fonder, selects the artists that the gallery represents, and while all of the work is extremely diverse in material, technique and intent, there are subtle commonalities within the aesthetics of each artist.
Fonder has an eye for work possessing rich and textural surfaces that captivate the imagination. She does not want the gallery to give off a pretentious or untouchable persona that Tulsans will feel intimidated to approach. Consequently, Aberson Exhibits is a playground for Tulsans' eyes as one wanders through the gallery.
An exhibit entitled, New Works, by New York artist Jen Bradford is currently on display at Aberson Exhibits. Her work is abstract, yet clearly references organic forms and the spontaneous compositions that can only be found in nature.
Bradford grew up in Maine, and its shore, trees and colors have been a constant source of inspiration throughout her career as an artist, she said. However, her paintings are by no means literal interpretations of Maine's landscape. While she does use visual references from time to time, her paintings are all extremely inventive in color, composition and subject matter. Her talent lies in an ability to create forms that are familiar yet distorted and consequently unrecognizable.
In a piece entitled, "Contortionist," Bradford uses the top two-thirds of the canvas to create a series of shapes that seem to reference underwater rocks or sea creatures. Contrasted against the cool organic forms is an undulating sea of blue reminiscent of the deep ocean. The juxtaposition of these two segments creates a striking painting that alludes to the mystery of the ocean while leaving plenty of room for interpretation from the imagination.
More inspiring to Bradford than the beauty of Maine is that act of painting itself. For her, painting is "like a very intense conversation. When the conversation is going well, there is almost no better feeling." She loves the way painting is open to surprises, and while she often begins working with some idea in her head of what she hopes to create, what keeps her working is the fact that she does not know how anything will end up.
The work in her current show is about making discoveries through inventive techniques and experiments. "I toyed with calling the show Lab Work, since I often feel like an inventor or scientist who does experiments all day."
She loves to create her own textures. One technique she incorporated into the work in this exhibit is to pour small, delicate materials, such as seeds, string or rice into wet paint, then paint a glaze over their imprints once they are removed from the surface.
All of the work in the show is largely a result of chance. From tipping the canvas and allowing the paint to interact with gravity to scraping off layers of paint from the surface, Bradford is able to bring a balance of spontaneity and control to her work.
"I try to find the sweet spot between something that simply 'grew' and something made," she said.
In a piece entitled "Saudade," Bradford allows subtle forms to emerge out of an unknown surface. While its organic nature is highly unpredictable, she leaves her mark as an artist in control of her own invention by limiting this activity to certain regions of the panel.
In addition to the seductive challenges of painting, Bradford also seeks inspiration from a number of artists. The emotion and physicality in the work of German artist, Anselm Kiefer, deeply affected Bradford when she saw a retrospective of his work many years ago, she said. She also feels a connection with artist Eva Hesse after reading her published diaries, which divulge many of the struggles women face as artists. Gerhard Richter is another fascinating artist to Bradford who admires how "he shrugs off any need to choose between figuration and abstraction."
Bradford has devoted much of the past eight months to developing the body of work for this exhibit. She became connected with Aberson Exhibits after a mutual friend showed her work online to Kim Fonder.
Bradford said she was impressed with the gallery space Aberson provided and was inspired to challenge herself and create paintings on a much larger scale than she had in the past. "That decision changed the work to some extent, since there was a different physical relationship between the work and myself," Bradford said.
In the future, she hopes to learn how to simplify her work without sacrificing any of the beautiful colors or textures she has become so apt at creating.
"Ultimately, I hope to keep being as surprised as anyone else by what turns up," Bradford said.
Jen Bradford is among many of the talented and accomplished artists represented with Aberson Exhibits. The exhibit opens Wednesday, April 14 and runs through May 8. More information about the gallery, represented artists and upcoming events can be found at abersonexhibits.com. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11-5pm or by appointment.
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