Elizabeth Bradford is the centerpiece of Christa Faut Gallery's 20th year celebration. She's an appropriate choice. Christa Faut is celebrating the dawning of her third decade of dealing art, a business which is lucky to last five years, showing an artist who has been on the art world radar since Ronald Reagan left office.
Bradford shares Faut's survival instincts, as both gallery owner and artist are committed to work ethic, craft, and community. Bradford's proof-in-the-pudding perseverance is demonstrated by a profligacy resulting in a body of work robust, long lived, and continually evolving. She is prone to design, and take on, projects which drive her work, and for this show, she has designed a project which takes a hard look at the abundance outside her back door.
Two Mile Radius is the name of Bradford's current show at the Christa Faut Gallery. The painter limited her subject matter for these paintings to a two-mile radius of her home in northern Mecklenburg County. Bradford wandered the woods, hills and creeks of her ancestor's stomping grounds for inspiration. She is lucky she lives in such a place, and luckier still she has the eyes to know how lucky she is. She has the facility of hand to invite us out to stroll around the grounds until we feel at home. It doesn't take long.
"Poke and Walnut Tree" is a gray trunk at midsection, limbs tendrilled out, reaching up and across the canvas. Behind the tree is a wild meadow with blossoming midsummer ferns and wild grass. Beyond that is a copse of trees; another lighter line of trees beyond, and above that a faded blue sky. The scene is graphically detailed -- bark, shadow, gnarled limbs and light winking through leaves.
The bucolic 19th century landscape is upstaged by a merry poke vine, an ebullient lattice taking flight across the pastoral landscape. The poke vine is festooned with berries and laced with a kaleidoscope of stems and leaves -- raspberry pink, ruby red, Clemson orange, crimson, purple and cobalt blue.
This painting is the goofiest, and the best, in the show.
The poke vine disarms and charms; it is frivolous and gratuitous and unexpected. Bradford's fanciful poke vine is full of itself, impossibly fecund and unapologetically potent. It's all the things our natural landscape offers, but we've forgotten that, forgotten the thickness and lushness and juiciness of the earth's fare poking up out of sidewalks, whizzing past the window and laying in wait in the backyard. Bradford's fantasy poke vine departure is a reminder of what we've forgotten, what grandness lies beneath and beyond our attention. She reminds us our early onset blindness born of casual familiarity and elective disregard can blind us to the wonder of the abundance in our own natural radii.
Bradford has an eye for detail; for pistils and watermelon skins and plumes of weeds and the sharp willowy edges on leaves of grass. She carefully details the outline of the creek bed or meadow or copse, and then exits the real world to invest herself in the painting. She taps her imagination to explore the countless color possibilities lying dormant on the skin of a spiky pod lolling on the end of a long reed, or to focus us in on a watermelon so regal and isolated and insistent, it appears to be not only "The Last Watermelon" of the season, but the last watermelon we'll ever see. She shows us what grows in her two-mile workshop, and what blooms from her head.
"Sand Bar, Creek Bed" is a stream or creek bed winding through a flat low plane of sandy soil. The water's surface is all shattered reflections of light, wobbly mirrors of the sky and landscape riding on the wind-driven water. Wild grass rises up, reaching in from one side, each stem articulated from the next, grouped in a wind-choreographed bow toward the water. Like other paintings here, "Sand Bar" melds photographic realism with patterned abstraction, and gives the impression the natural arrangement was constructed purely for our senses.
This painter is versatile and inquisitive and experimental. Bradford is prolific -- sometimes to a fault, as documented in her one-painting-for-every-day-of-the-year project a few years ago. You can see all 366 paintings on her Web site, and though the wacky initiative is compelling, her iron man effort yielded only a couple of dozen compelling paintings. Give the devil her due -- even with my ruthless edit, she's prolific.
Faut asked Bradford to join the gallery 20 years ago. The Christa Faut Gallery has survived this long -- her run is eclipsed only by Hodges Taylor and Jerald Melberg -- because she knows how to grab hold of very good artists and manages to hang on to them.
People tend to figure that out. Good taste is both infectious and addictive; Faut has a devoted stock of collectors who support her enviable stable of artists. A stock of collectors devoted and hardy enough to grind the 20 miles up 77 to exit 28, and then brave the serpentine asphalt stretch to her gallery in a suburban marketplace called Jetton Village in Cornelius.
Location, location, location ... bullshit. Walking through her doors is like wandering the Stepford Serengeti and stumbling into Xanadu. An unexpected delight. The initiated know about this hinterland oasis, and now you and I do, too.
The exhibit Elizabeth Bradford: Two Mile Radius runs through Sept. 30 at Christa Faut Gallery, 19818 North Cove Road, Suite E3, Jetton Village, Cornelius. For more information, call the gallery at 704-892-5312 or go to www.christafautgallery.com. To see more of Elizabeth Bradford's work, go to her Web site at www.elizabethbradford.com.