A CONVERSATION WITH BRADFORD WILLINGHAM
Brooklyn based artist, Bradford Willingham sat down with Sam Trioli to discuss his two part online viewing room, Moiré Vowing (Part I) and Lies are Sewn, Lips are Known (Part II). In these two series of works, Willingham transferred the first iteration’s physical line drawings into digital vectors and then colored them into a muted flat pop aesthetic. The imagery and prints themselves evolve and expand from one series to the next, providing a documented evolution within the work itself, and in some ways the characters featured within them.
Bradford Willingham. Dental Hygienist (Duck/Dumpty). 2021. Digital collage, dimension variable
Sam Trioli: Let’s start at the very beginning – where are you originally from?
Bradford Willingham: I’m from Louisiana but I’ve been in New York for 15 years, so I consider NYC home at this point.
ST: What is your art about?
BW: The “about” is variable. The “about,” is here, and there, and everywhere (depending on the day). But among some of my interests/leanings/finding—in general, and without being too vague, or just the right amount of vague—some permutations of “about” are: The abundant accumulation and subsequent confusion/uncertainty—as a result/as a possibility—of words and images used to express/sell/give rise to our desires/associations/understandings/non-understandings. In other words, an ongoing project of transforming and rethinking the mutable positions/purposes/motives/objectives of recognizable objects/words/images, serving as a way to address the singularity/plurality, transparency/opacity, sincerity/insincerity of potential meaning. More and less to the point, the opening, resisting, testing, waiting on the logical link that is imposed on/through/within, or that I inflict upon things as they come into my purview/browser and re-arranging/complicating them as I see fit (in a duckshell).
ST: I was first introduced by your work by Nathan Dilworth, in a fascinating exhibition at North Henry Annex in Brooklyn called Don’t Wake Up. I’ll never forget seeing your video there for the first time, Shoot The Freak – how do you feel your work has evolved since then?
BW: That was a great show. It was the first time that I presented my work in a “gallery” setting. Before that I had only really shown my work at film festivals. So, that show introduced me to a side of art that I hadn’t previously really engaged with and I guess, in a way, it made me “wake up.” Soon after I realized that my interest lie more in the broad spectrum/scope of art and its versatility and not only in narrative filmmaking—not that narrative filming can’t be versatile. I began to dislike certain attention/formality aspects in the presentation of films, or my films in particular. Like ok, everyone be quiet and pay attention to me now, it seemed too self indulgent in a way. I wanted to do something less methodical and produced, something more nonchalant, I guess more insincere as Broodthaers once put it. So, I began messing around with video art and the possibilities of presentation there, and that gradually led me away from filmmaking, into sculpture. Also, my girlfriend at the time was attending grad school for painting and I was fortunate enough to have the chance to sit in on classes, attend lectures and artist talks.
ST: Do you see yourself working in video again?
BW: Yeah, I do. I haven’t thought about it in a minute but it is still something that I have an interest in. I really enjoy editing. For a minute I was making false antidepressants commercials. I’d be interested in revisiting that idea again.
I WENT THROUGH A PHASE IN GRAD SCHOOL WHERE I WAS MAKING SOME ART WITH FOOD. THIS EVENTUALLY LED ME TO VIEW ART AS A COMBINATION OF INGREDIENTS, A RECIPE IF YOU WILL. DISPARATE ELEMENTS MIXED TOGETHER, TO BECOME SOMETHING OTHER THAN THE SUM OF THEIR PARTS.
ST: How do you view these more recent works featured in your online viewing room, MOIRÉ VOWING (VIÉWING ROOM)?
BW: Is it a duck? Or is it a cheese, banana, eggplant, leg, shoe, udder, sock, Q-tip, floss pick, etc.? Animals/objects capable of such strange oscillations: they only occur under special, manufactured conditions, those conditions of a regurgitated trope, an image seen millions of times and simultaneously, seen for the first time. Why not say that the novel image corresponds to two senses, a duck sense and another sense—a cheese, banana, eggplant, shoe, road sign, udder, sock, Q-tip, floss pick, etc., sense? “The city, which is plagued by smog and traffic jams,” “is a universe of terror, always on the point of collapse, and to survive in it requires a philosophy of resignation.” “That’s the third time you’ve gone to sleep in the dough mixer!” “Donald hopscotches from one dead-end gig to the next, partaking in the “frantic chase for money” that propels Duckburg’s “whirligig of misfortune.”” “Cartoons ensure that justice is done to the creatures and objects they [electrify/]electrified, by giving the maimed specimens a second life. All they do today is to ... hammer into every brain the lesson[/lesion] of the continuous fiction, the breaking down of all individual resistance is the condition of life in this society.” ““You’re fired, Duck,” his boss at a bakery shouts, giving him a swift kick in the pants—except that Donald never wears pants.” * Myth is insuperable. Current affairs stumble into the recesses of tangential and miscellaneous memes, bestowing us with more and more unusable things. Things aggrandizing themselves in the moment, the moment aggrandizing itself in things (and there is never enough stuff). An epoch that is simultaneously lost and longing to be lost, bouncing back and forth from the animated, to the physical, to the digital—and back again. Everything moves in loops, tropes, inversions of meaning, everything happens in a great whirl, everything is recognized, in and out of fashion. Knowledge never changes, only its decor changes. Images and texts are used and reused—feedback loops of regurgitated images—energy swirls in us and through us, endless proliferation, accumulation, possibilities. In the spirit of Louise Lawler, the images recirculate and appear over and over again, only slightly different each time. They have second and third lives—with potential for more. These works began as digital collages, then I presented them as simple line drawings. For this new iteration, they have been digitized into vectors and then re-presented as risograph prints. I intend for these images to continue morphing after a short duck hiatus.
ST: What role does poetry play in your more recent work?
BW: I’m interested in how the images change with the addition of text, and vice versa. There is an ambiguity there that is important to me. It’s important to be ambiguous, this is what I like about poetry. This specific Duck lives in a world like Humpty Dumpty’s, where things are the other way around from how they appear (everyday objects have no designated names that distinguish what they are/aren’t). Words mean whatever he wants them to mean—that is, he can stick words on things the way we stick names on people/animals. I went through a phase in grad school where I was making some art with food. This eventually led me to view art as a combination of ingredients, a recipe if you will. Disparate elements mixed together, to become something other than the sum of their parts. I still like this idea, I like the humor and prescriptive nature in viewing artmaking in this way. When I was a kid, my grandmother used to follow recipes quite strictly except for the numerous occasions when she didn’t have a specific ingredient, such as raisins, she’d substitute olives or something very different than raisins. It would always result in some interesting dishes. I think this spilled over into my life and my approach to art making. Refusing to acknowledge the difference between a raisin and an olive is refreshing. Perhaps these distinctions that we apply to everything around us, that we so firmly hold on too, are in fact arbitrary.
ST: Who are some of your most important influences?
BW: I was introduced to Susan Te Kaurangi King recently and her works with Donald Duck are really wonderful. William Anastasi, Andy Warhol, John Wesley, Roy Lichtenstein, David Salle, Eduardo Paolozzi have also done some great things with Donald Ducks.
Bradford Willingham. Untitled (Cheese). 2021. Risograph printed on vellum, 11 x 17 in (27.94 x 43.18 cm). Edition of 20.
ST: Do you feel as though you trust or mistrust the artworld?
BW: It’s a hard egg to crack, to put it softly. You could say that I both trust and mistrust it (depending on my mood). I certainly find it interesting/ambivalizing/speculant, specifically it’s relation to value, both monetary as well as linear. As far as myself being part/whole/equivalent of it, I kinda take it at my own stride/pause/repetition. And because of that, I feel like I’m a bit in the transition/periphery, which I’m ok/fine/fused with. I’m pretty content/devoted/bound just being in the studio, entertaining myself/a-self/your-self.
For more information on the work of Bradford Willingham please visit launchf18.com/bradfordwillingham
*How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comics. Dorfman, Ariel. Armand Mattelart (1979). pp. 170–177