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Sitting down with Bradley Biancardi

Bradlely Biancardi. Piano Magic, 2011. Mixed Media. Chicago, IL. (Photo Courtesy of Bradley Biancardi)

Earlier this month I joined Bradley Biancardi in his East Garfield Park studio to discuss his current show at the Hyde Park Art Center, his artistic process, and his interests as an artist. Amicable, candid, and passionate about his work, Biancardi spoke freely about the ever-changing status of his practice, his interest in the figure, and his contemporary interpretations of Renaissance Italian paintings.

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): How did you first get into art and painting?

Brad Biancardi (BB): I’ve always been into art and painting. Painting specifically, I started to really become interested in during college. I was doing photography and music. Then I thought I was going to be an astronomy major, and was for a little bit, but then painting just quietly pushed all these other things aside. Then I realized, “Oh, I guess I’m a painter.”

ZJ: So did you get your MFA?

BB: I did. When I was at Indiana University (IU) I got my BFA, then I went to Seattle to the University of Washington to get my MFA.

ZJ: Are you from Indiana originally?

BB: I am.  IU is a very traditional program in a lot of ways, and it’s a very ambitious program in a lot of ways. It’s a figurative-based program, and I’m very much into figurative art now. It’s important to me.

Undergraduate school at IU wasn’t a figurative program in terms of an academy where you go in and draw from the model, and they stress craft and rendering of light and form. It’s a figurative based program in that they’ll encourage their students to make a 6’ tall painting with a hundred people in it, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to paint a person. You should just compose. They stress composition and not meticulous academic rendering of people and paintings and drawings. That program in Indiana was valuable for my education in painting.

Bradley Biancardi in the studio. February 9, 2012. (Photo credit: Zachary Johnson)

I learned a lot about contemporary painting and the history of figurative painting there. They loved Italy, and I love Italy, and my dad’s from there, so I got to go there when I was young. I got exposed to these grand, figurative compositions that just blew my mind. They seeped into my consciousness at a young age; now it’s totally present in my work.

In a weird way, because my family is Italian, I feel like I have a genetic connection, and it’s almost like I have a right to reference Renaissance or classic Italian art. It’s not just me as a painter paying homage to art history. It’s me doing that and reconnecting with my roots.


ZJ: According to the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) the show that you have there is new work for you and incorporates new ideas. They spoke about it in terms of a transition. 

BB: I don’t know if it’s a specific transitional point, as I’ve always felt that my work is in transition. Learning in graduate school for me was just an excuse to experiment, and I was not focused at all.  There was a point after grad school in 2005 where for about two years I settled into an aesthetic. It was the only time as an artist that I had focused to that degree on an imagery and a stylized language. Then I moved to Chicago in early 2008. My artwork became in flux and started to change.

ZJ: Do you think part of that was being in a new city?

BB: Yeah, being in a new city, getting older. I don’t understand how some artists have this kind of name brand imagery in their work that they’ve been doing for years. I’m not like that at all. I would feel like I was diluting myself because my scope would be too narrow. I would feel like my artwork would not be responding to my own life in a sincere way.

I’m always changing my mind about things, becoming interested in different things, moving from place to place, falling in and out of love, meeting new friends. How can your work not respond to that? So my work looks kind of schizophrenic right now, but I think it always probably will to some degree. Since I came out of that formulaic period, I’ve become more comfortable being in flux and not having this narrow imagery that could be my style. I’ve become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

ZJ: Do you feel like you tried new stylistic or visual elements?

BB: In terms of imagery, the show at the HPAC is new in that I picked a grouping of work that are all dealing with the figure and symbols of the body, but I don’t know if I’d called this a transition for me.

I did the biggest painting that I’ve ever done which is 9’ by 7.8’.  It was also a vertical composition. I wanted to do that kind of composition in figurative painting because I was referencing, in a way, the scale, composition, and scope of classic Italian, religious painting. Then there are several small paintings in the show which are of a new scale for me. I saw them as the stations of the cross. There are a lot of religious implications in the work.

Bradley Biancardi. Social Unrest (detail), 2011. Oil on canvas. Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL. (Photo Credit: Zachary Johnson)

Everything’s based in drawing, whether it’s preparatory drawings or drawing through an idea. My installations sometimes are just humongous drawings, and I think about my paintings as drawing with color. That’s one of the reasons why I’m starting to paint on large pieces of paper with acrylic. It dries faster, so it makes [the process] more immediate like drawing.

When I’m working, I’m slow. I’m a slow painter. I like to have prolonged relationships with my work. I really liked working on the large painting [that’s up at the Hyde Park Art Center] because it was in my studio for a year and a half. I worked on other things too while I was working on that, but I liked the idea of a slow evolution and just sitting with it. I don’t go paint one-shot paintings. I understand the value of them, and I used to do it when I was younger, but my process is slow; It sort of goes through spurts. Sometimes I’ll be more motivated and work quicker and spend more time in the studio. Other times the works will just lay dormant for long periods of time.

I think about painting, and drawing, and my place in painting history a lot, as well as the relevance of my work and ideas and how they directly relate to the history of painting.

I also need this outlet that doesn’t have to begin and end with painting. When I make installations, I’m able to work more with ideas. It keeps me connected to ideas and different materials and spaces. I’m concerned with the experience of viewing and with making an artwork that’s not just based in painterly concerns. I have to have both of those things [in my practice].

ZJ: What do you want viewers to get out of your pieces?

BB: I want [the pieces] to linger on after you experience them the way a melody can. I want to make beautiful things; I have more interest in making beautiful things than in coming up with a clever idea. The idea for me is mostly in service of the process or the object in the end.

There are always ideas orbiting the works that I make. I just don’t want my paintings to be illustrations of some concept. I don’t want there to be some thought, idea, point of view that I have that I’m going to dictate through metaphor. I want it to be more ambiguous than that, but I want it to be undeniable. Whatever you’re looking at, I want it to be undeniable that it exists and [I want] you to have to respond to it in some way through thought or emotion. [I don’t want the piece to] shut it down for you, and tell you why it’s there and what you’re supposed to think and feel about it.

I want it to be more specific than strictly abstract painting, but I want there to be some sort of mystery.

ZJ: Lastly, what is the most visually striking thing you can remember seeing?

BB: I love science and astronomy. When I was younger we would look through telescopes. My father took me out of school to see a solar eclipse when I was in grammar school. I was in Indiana and we went to the observatory; They had a device called a sun scope. It was a telescope where you could look at the sun. It collected an image and projected it off a wall inside of the observatory. You looked at this projection so you weren’t looking exactly at the sun, but it projected it as a negative. It was big. It was probably about a 5 feet in diameter image of the sun. You could see the sun spots rotating, and you could see solar flares. It was all black and white and grey. That’s an amazing image that comes to mind.

In terms of painting, the most intense visual experience I’ve had has been seeing Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid and Pontormo’s Deposition paintings in Florence. Those two were incredibly moving and memorable experiences.

Bradley is currently showing at the Hyde Park Art Center in a solo exhibition titled Formless and Devotional, which runs through April 1. In May, Roots and Culture will be showing his work in a new exhibition alongside Zoe Nelson. To learn more about Bradley’s work visit his website here.

“Formless and Devotional”
Now through April 1
Hydepark Art Center
5020 S. Cornell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60615

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3 Responses to " Sitting down with Bradley Biancardi "

  1. LOVED the interview. Your work ROCKS!!!

  2. Kelly says:

    I met Brad once and I have the good fortune of owning a couple of his paintings. He’s one of the nicest artists I ever met. Real class, too. He’s grade A genuine and one of a kind and his work kicks butt too!
    Look him up. Buy a couple of his paintings. They’re worth it!

  3. [...] 10. Sitting Down with Bradley Biancardi by Zachary Johnson [...]

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