Rauschenberg’s Whistle Stop (Spread), 1977 is still on my mind, but now I’m intrigued by its placement near Mark Bradford’s Helter Skelter II, 2007 (above, with detail). Both works refer to the artists’ hometowns, and the distinctions between Port Arthur, Texas and Los Angeles, California come through quite clearly.
As I mentioned in my last post, Whistle Stop references Rauschenberg’s childhood growing up in a small Texas town in the Depression Era. I haven’t been to Port Arthur myself, but I definitely get feeling of small-town life through the rickety screen doors, faded wallpaper, and some of the images printed on the panels, like photographs of wildlife and the illustration of a shotgun house like the one the artist grew up in.
Helter Skelter couldn’t be more different. Bradford lives in Los Angeles, and this piece strives to capture the life of the city. I lived in the LA area a few years ago and Bradford’s work captures the buzz of the city in a way that is both inviting and staggering at the same time. Though Whistle Stop was large for its day (7’ x 15’), Bradford’s work is 12' high and 36' long – monumental and overwhelming, yet the myriad details are intriguing. Growing up around his mother’s hair salon, Bradford gained an appreciation for the way shop owners in his neighborhood with diverse backgrounds and cultures could create a sense of community all their own. Taking signage from the streets around town, Bradford thrusts the artifacts of his neighborhood into the museum (like Rauschenberg’s doors and blinking light). The swirling designs added by the artist both obscure and reveal the posters in a way that’s almost topographical. The piece seems to vibrate in response to his urban experiences.
UPDATE: Docent Barbara Pfaffenberger brought this great quote by Mark Bradford to my attention: "I think if Rauschenberg were pulling from the streets now, he and I would be fighting for the billboards."