If you have to just see one exhibition at the Crane Arts Building, Interference by Paul Anthony Smith and Andre Bradley should be it. Two black American artists with two different backgrounds, the art of Paul Anthony Smith and Andre Bradley each hold their own, creating two different languages that tie together into one harmonious dialogue with the viewer. Interference is an exhibition in an archival presentation format that reveals to us different layers of each artist’s personal experiences that both function on different levels.
Paul Anthony Smith is a Brooklyn-based artist from Jamaica, educated at the Kansas City Art Institute and the New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida. Smith’s work focuses on themes of disguise and revelation, using a very painterly approach to his photography to combine both the imagery of landscape and portraiture of the Caribbean and Jamaica in a “picotage” format. The series presented in Interference is his Grey Area series, along with one painting outside the series, Only in AMerica.
Andre Bradley is a graduate of Hampshire College and received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Interference can be seen as an extension of his critically-acclaimed Dark Archives series, which also interweaves his writing and photographs with pictures from his family archive, in an attempt to disrupt the linguistic and visual constrictions placed on black males.
Smith’s work is the first you see when entering the exhibition, specifically his Grey Area #2.8 piece. To the left of it, is Bradley’s Still Life and Shadow accompanied with text. Smith’s “picotage” format is used in a very contrived manner, exposing to us that his focused usage of the medium is where he wants to be heard. Relating back to Rauschenberg, the disruption of universal imagery creates an invisible barrier that prevents the viewer from sitting on one point for too long. However, that can’t be said for his Grey Area #9 piece. The viewer is immediately drawn into the eye that is the central point of the image. It commands attention with an enigmatic undertone that leaves the viewer questioning who they’re looking at.
Bradley’s work is something that should be read like a book, with the manner it is presented, and even more so in the context of his Dark Archives series. His work is fragile and intimate, revealing to us the different archival layers of life with textual and found imagery. He uses underexposed images and profound writing to expose a larger archive of his life as a black man. He says in his exhibition, (accompanied next to the piece Untitled [“All water has a perfect memory…”]) “The word Black, for example, creates a rupture in me…Other people’s limits create a fracture in my identity. To me Black is quiet. Black is changing.” With these found images and prosaic text, he shows to us a fractal of imagery that cuts deeply into the social forces responsible that make up “Andre Bradley.”
The continuance of the exhibition worked well with Smith and Bradley’s work. Paul Anthony Smith’s work flowed well into Bradley’s—however, one might be compelled to argue that Bradley’s work overshadowed Smith’s work, making it seemingly more generic, whether this is something the curator, Nathaniel Stein, intended or not. Bradley’s work cut more deeply into his veins, bleeding out to the world his idea of his own self-image that’s created by race, family, and the social forces surrounding his oeuvre. However, Smith’s work still held its own and functioned well as a collection of fragmented, personal imagery, in a way that Bradley functioned on a textual and more intimate level.