Opening at the Autry Museum of the American West on March 31, 2019, the exhibition “Indian Country: The Art of David Bradley,” explores the artist’s four-decade career and his deeply thoughtful body of work, a combination of personal experience, social observation, and the influence of art historical icons from Leonardo da Vinci to René Magritte and Andy Warhol.
“The Autry aims to confront and address outdated understandings of Native art, and this exhibition apprehends old ideas and turns them on their head, said W. Richard West, Jr. (Southern Cheyenne), Autry’s president and CEO.
“David Bradley’s paintings are accessible, imaginative, and absolutely reflective of our mission to share the diverse stories and perspectives of the American West. We are thrilled that our visitors will experience this cross-section of media from the artist.”
Influenced by the Pop movement as well as the stylized, pictorial narratives of traditional Indian painting, David Bradley’s oeuvre occupies a space in between Native modernism and American pop, and has an immediate, visceral impact. Bradley, a Chippewa, is best known for his keenly observant and witty narratives, which depict the Native experience of tourist and commercial culture in rich detail and bold, saturated colors. His work comments on and satirizes a wide range of themes from Hollywood clichés to Native stereotypes, the art market, and the racism imbedded within them.
Bradley was born into a low income household in Eureka, CA to a Native mother and white father. The family moved to Minnesota, where he lived first with his mother and then in a series of foster homes until a non-Native family adopted him.
Removed from his tribal heritage and culture and raised in white society, the artist experienced first-hand the racism toward Native people in Minnesota during the mid-twentieth century. Bradley struggled to reconcile Native and mainstream traditions, like so many others in his community, and this struggle is prevalent in much of his work.
After leaving Minnesota, Bradley entered the Peace Corps in the mid-1970s. He then studied at the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe and its commercial art scene rankled Bradley, and both became fodder for some of his most celebrated paintings.
In “Santa Fe Trail,” for example, recurring characters Tonto and the Lone Ranger appear in the foreground, while in the background “Santa Fe,” depicted in the fashion of the Hollywood sign, suggests a commercialization of the New Mexico city.
Ultimately, however, Bradley settled in Santa Fe, purchasing land that he named Chippewa Ranch after the White Earth Indian Reservation where his mother lived. He still lives there today.
Bradley has received numerous awards and fellowships, including recognition as the only artist to win the top awards in both the Fine Art categories of painting and sculpture at the Santa Fe Indian Market. He was also awarded the Southwestern Association of Indian Art Fellowship in 1980 and the Minnesota Chippewa Art Award for Merit in Art in 1979, among several others.