Brunswick artist brings imaginative message to MECA in Portland

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BRUNSWICK — The third floor of the Fort Andross Mill, with its stark white walls and plain wood floors, looks pretty bland.

One room situated within it, however, is anything but boring.

A huge open space full of colorful canvases, cans of paint and stained brushes is home to artist Katherine Bradford’s summer studio.

Bradford will give a lecture as part of Maine College of Art’s Visiting Artist Lecture Series, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. July 16. The talk will be in MECA’s Osher Hall, 522 Congress St., Portland, and is open to the public at no charge, although seating is limited.

In her decades as a painter, Bradford has had her work exhibited in galleries from New York to North Carolina. But it all started locally.

“I started creating art because of Maine, because that’s where I met artists, real artists, and they influenced me,” she said. 

Her first solo show was at Corsican Pizza, a restaurant formerly located on Union Street, which, she said, is where “all the hippies went” at the time.

“I know that sounds pretty humble but Corsican Pizza was pretty cool,” she said. “It was a great time, and now I’m showing in museums.”

After moving to Maine in 1968, Bradford raised her two children in Brunswick before divorcing and moving to New York in the 1980s. She now splits her time between New York City and Brunswick, where she summers. 

Many of her paintings deal with water, often placed in uncanny circumstances. The title of her 2015 piece “Swim Team in Outer Space,” for instance, is rather self-explanatory.

It depicts a group of women, all dressed the same in red swimsuits, swimming in neon pink and purple water, beneath a large, multi-colored planet.

Her inspiration for such pieces, she said, comes from within.

“I invent all the things I paint. It comes from my imagination, which makes the whole project even more wonderful because you have an interior life, and you lean on it,” she said. “(With) our obsession with the news and the way everything is going in this country, I think to have a very rich interior life is a wonderful thing to have to cope.”

In her lecture next week, part of MECA’s Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art program, Bradford said she will “tell the story” of her career as much as possible through images. She is planning on showing some paintings from her early years as an artist and explaining how and why her work has changed. 

One thing Bradford said she thinks those “who don’t make art” don’t realize is how much artists pay attention to art other people are making.

Staying in tune with what is happening in the art world, and viewing as much art as possible is also “high on her list” of advice for young artists. Having a community of people to give feedback, and being able to listen and learn from that advice, she added, is also important.

One thing happening now in the art world that she’s excited about is more opportunities being given to traditionally underrepresented groups. 

“(It’s) what they call corrective, in that galleries and museums are purposefully opening doors to under looked groups,” she said. “And that includes women, older women, minority groups, and so on. I think the art world has realized that for years it’s been white men, almost completely white men, and I think that’s changing.”

In her own life, she’s been “heavily influenced” by looking at other paintings. Bryn Mawr College, her alma mater, did not have studio art classes at the time she was a student – only art history.

And, while she largely had to learn her craft on her own, Bradford said she dislikes the phrase “self-taught” because “it’s so misunderstood.”

“I wouldn’t say I was self-taught because I was given a good college education, but I did know how to find out what I needed to know,” she said. “Going to lectures like the one I’m about to give is a really good way of educating yourself – they’re almost always free.”

In addition to giving such lectures, Bradford has also served as a senior critic at in the Graduate Painting Program at Yale University. Older artists, she feels, should be open to teaching about their work, and said teaching is a large part of being an artist.

And, while she said pursuing art can be “discouraging at times,” she prefers not to focus on struggle.

“The thing about being an artist is, everyone’s worried that you’re going to be a starving artist, (and that) you’re not going to make any money,” she said. “But you are going to have a very interesting life.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Katherine Bradford, an artist who got her start in Brunswick and still spends summers in Maine, will give a free lecture in Portland as part of Maine College of Art’s Summer Visiting Artist Series on July 16.

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