Michael Auping's thoughts on Mark Bradford's CLICK

Mark Bradford, Click, 2001 (detail)
Mark Bradford, Click, 2001.

Pictured: Mark Bradford, Click, 2001. Mixed media on canvas. 72 × 84 1/8 inches. Private Collection. © Mark Bradford. Photograph by Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich

Michael Auping, curator of the major exhibition Mark Bradford: End Papers, recently shared his thoughts on Mark Bradford, the exhibition, and one work in particular, Click.

Among the lesser things we need worry about in these times of sheltering is our hair. But I know many of you are secretly thinking about your hair, wondering when you can get it cut, colored, and curled. I’m pretty much totally bald, though, so I feel left out.

Mark Bradford and Michael Auping in the galleries.

The only way I can be involved is through my exhibition Mark Bradford: End Papers. Sadly, it closed a week and a half after it opened. But I keep thinking about the show, hanging in those empty galleries. I’m particularly thinking about a painting titled "Click," from 2001. The first thing I see is an abstract painting in loosely patterned shades. Then I notice that this painting isn’t exactly painted; it’s a very subtle form of collage made of small sheets of semi-translucent paper. Those papers are called end papers, hence the title of the exhibition. End papers are used the process of curling and styling hair. When a section of hair is wrapped around a curling iron, it is protected by these small 2 x 4” sheets of paper, both to keep it in place and to protect it from the heat of the iron.

Mark essentially grew up in his mother’s beauty salon. While he is a distinguished graduate of the highly respected California Institute of the Arts, he acknowledges the beauty salon as his first studio. You might notice that on the left side of the painting is a tiny photographic reproduction of what looks like a wig of a bouffant hair style, a clue that leads back to the salon. It is where he learned to think about color and where he found his early materials. Mark likes to say that abstract painting is about gestures and hair is about gestures. Certainly a bouffant is a major gesture. Sometimes I wish I had one on top of my bald head.

Mark chose to start with end papers because he wanted to create a simple grid across the surface of the canvas. He applied each end paper by hand, so the grid is not exact at all. But it’s that inexactness that makes the painting’s surface hard to locate. It’s like it is pulsating or even breathing.

And now the color, a kind of orangish-pink. What makes this color interesting is that I can’t quite find a name for it. Orangish-pink is really not close. Where does it come from? You guessed it, the beauty salon. The variety of colors provided by Clairol hair products is remarkable, and Mark finds some of the most beautifully strange ones. He used them not only because he could get them free from his mother’s salon, but also because he wanted his “abstractions” to acknowledge his biography.

What is the title Click about? When you wrap hair around a curling iron and lock it in place, it makes the sound CLICK. Mark would hear this sound a lot in the salon. So through his color and the title, he is evoking the atmosphere of the salon in this abstract painting.

And let’s not forget that when a painting really works, as this one does, we like to say that it “clicks.”

The opening for this exhibition was the last truly joyful moment I’ve had in a month and a half. Our table was enlivened by two distinguished hairdressers: Cleo Hill-Jackson and Tina Knowles-Lawson (Beyoncé’s mother).