Ryan Bradley’s pastel portraits can be easily mistake for a manipulated digital file. His rendition of flesh is so real, with supple continuous color, that one must almost stick their nose to the surface to his fine strokes of pastel.
And ironically, that is primarily how he works, sometimes so close to the canvas or paper that his nose smudges the work he has just done. His incredible skill at photo realism is especially exceptional, as Bradley is legally blind. In the late 90s, as a freshman in a photo class at the School of Visual Arts in New York, Bradley noticed that his photographs were coming out slightly blurred. Blaming his camera, he discovered it was in fact his eyesight, as he tried others’ cameras, which yielded the same results.
His eyesight has gradually been deteriorating over the last 10+ years, yet his artwork has not suffered in the slightest.
Bradley has used Israeli model Adi Neumann for every one of his pieces. This may seem like a monotonous idea, but instead it illustrates his process, highlighting his skill and design. Using the same model allows the viewer to experience Bradley’s artistic vision and intention, rather than being distracted from the comparison of beauty from one model to the next.
His process is long and meticulous, taking months to complete each piece. His OCD doesn’t allow for shortcuts, which is also evident in his apartment/studio, which is a tiny Chelsea space with only the bare essentials- bed, easel, fire place and scores of art books, all neatly stacked according to size.
His first step is photographing Adi, then blowing up the image to a large size he can draw from. The second step takes the longest. Using a sheet of plastic with an adhesive backing that he affixes to his paper, which he hand cuts an intricate pattern into with an Exacto knife. Slowly but surely, he cuts tiny swirls, removing the excess plastic, which can take up to two months. Working in pastels, the rendition of Adi is then applied to the paper. Here is where is rich tones come into play, as Adi is recreated.
And finally, possibly the most wasteful part of all- when the pastel is complete, almost half of it is tossed into the trash. Bradley peels the remaining adhesive plastic away to show his handiwork of two months previous- the detailed pattern work. The result has the effect of a ghost. Fragments of a girl looking you dead in the eye, a whirl of patterned smoke rich with detail.
Bradley has been working hard on his next solo show at the new Chelsea location of Lyons Wier, that is set for early 2012, where he will be exploring abstract pieces in pen and paint to go along with his whispery abstracts of Adi.