I want to infuse my portraits with a sense of naturalism, so the subjects appear relaxed and familiar. Nothing should be artificial, contrived or sentimentalized. I portray my subjects in surroundings that are relevant to their lives and in a manner that best captures their inherent gestures and movements. My role is to let people be themselves, and then be sensitive enough to capture those moments when they happen. A successful portrait is much more than a mirror of a physical likeness: It transcends form and reveals the subject’s spirit and personality. This is what I strive for in my work.
A portrait painting must also stand on its own as a work of art. I eschew the commercial and formulaic styles that are prevalent in contemporary portraiture. A painting begins with an excellent composition and skilled draftsmanship. These, combined with sophisticated color, bold brushwork, mood and the interplay of light and shadow create art that can stand the test of time.
I am a tireless people watcher. I am fascinated by both our amazing diversity and fundamental sameness. To capture someone, with all their complexities, through paint on canvas has to be one of the most challenging and rewarding undertakings in art. Portrait painting is the enduring art form by which I describe and celebrate the uniqueness of an individual.
On landscape painting:
One of my greatest joys as an artist is traveling and finding new subjects to paint. It rejuvenates my spirit and enlivens my senses. For me, painting is itself a journey—with discoveries, challenges and unexpected detours—that reveals a deeper understanding of the subject.
Painting a landscape on location, in ever-changing conditions, is an intense experience. My paintings are a record of my response to the spiritual and dramatic effects of light in nature. I am successful if the viewer sees and is moved, as I am.
Please view the Portfolio for examples of Bradley’s available landscape paintings.
On Stevens’ exhibit Museum Studies:
In the spring of 1977, I remember walking with some trepidation from my studio in downtown D.C. to the National Gallery of Art. I had signed up to copy my first painting in this venerable museum, and was hesitant at the prospect of working in front of throngs of onlookers. Nevertheless, I was determined to follow the long tradition of art students reproducing the masters as a means to unravel some of the mystery of painting.
For my first copy, I chose a small Monet landscape titled Argenteuil, from 1872. I always loved this painting. With luscious oil paint on a flat canvas, Monet somehow captures the feeling and spirit of a particular time and place. One can sense the stillness of a warm summer evening, as he stood painting on the bank of the Seine. A tall row of trees on the right edge of the canvas blocks the setting sun, casting the foreground into shadow––except where a few bold streaks of sunlight pierce the adjacent road. On the low horizon below a luminous sky, two sailboats lazily head home, their sails mirrored in the calm waters. In the distance, façades of the local village catch the last rays of fleeting light. To me it was pure magic. The scene was real, but it was more than reality. It was art. Every brushstroke, every note was perfect, like a Mozart divertimento. It took my breath away.
Needless to say, I was hooked. From that moment on, it became my mission to learn as much as I could from history’s great artists. For the next five years, two to three days a week, I copied paintings from a wide spectrum of styles and time periods. I learned something different from every artist. For example, Corot simplified the subject into large masses and shapes, then skillfully added touches and accents to enliven the paint surface. Degas used gestural lines to emphasize human movement. Rembrandt deepened shadows with transparent glazes to give physical and psychological depth to his subjects. Gilbert Stuart varied the focus in his paintings, delineating some parts and leaving others indistinct. Sargent–––the ultimate master of bravura brushwork–––expressed so much with an economy of strokes. Cezanne stressed structural form to give his subjects magnitude and gravity. Without exception, every artist taught me that a well-conceived and balanced composition is absolutely essential.
Now 35 years later, with Museum Studies, I return to where it all began. Art is born of personal experience. Given the countless hours I have spent in art museums and in particular, the National Gallery of Art, perhaps it was inevitable I should choose this theme. These paintings are my tribute to the great artists who have inspired me and to the magnificent museums that honor them.
To view paintings from this exhibit, please visit the Interiors section of the Portfolio.