The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World

*Man Made Dirigible*

Joe Bradley. Man Made Dirigible. 2008

Joe Bradley. Man Made Dirigible. 2008. Grease pencil on canvas, 60″ × 8′ (152.4 × 243.8 cm). Private collection. Courtesy CANADA

JOE BRADLEY: My name is Joe Bradley. These are shmagoo paintings. The word shmagoo is outdated slang for heroin that I think was around in the '60s. And it doesn't really have anything to do with the paintings themselves, I mean, heroin per se. I think I liked the fact that it is such a goofy word that's used to describe such a dark and destructive force.

As I was working on these modular, monochromatic, stacked paintings, I was drawing on the side. And the drawings just sort of took over. I was more engaged with that at the time than I was with the paintings.

The idea was just to somehow invest in the drawings in a way, to give them the sort of scale and physicality of paintings. I did want to make paintings that were as direct and crude and simple as I could make them. I just liked the idea that they were there and there was no ornamentation, really, and they couldn't be convoluted by color. I wanted this directness and immediate quality that a drawing has.

One thing would intuitively lead to the next. And at the time I was thinking about Christ, and that just seemed like a really outrageously bad idea, to make a big drawing of a cross. So that was there. And then the Superman logo, I was thinking about Godspell where the Christ character wears a Superman T-shirt. There's one shmagoo painting that, it's the Christ fish inside the mouth of a larger fish, which was a motif that was lifted directly from Philip K. Dick's Exegesis. There's this long, rambling, paranoid diary that Dick kept in the '70s. that has a few doodles in it, and that was one of them. And that kind of resonated with me.

You're always trying to escape your own sensibilities. It's intuitive in the sense that there'll be a notion that just kind of orbits. And it's there, and you're not really sure why it's there. And if it stays around long enough, you've got to do something about it, you know?

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