Katherine Bradford is a one-of-a-kind artist. This painter’s fantastical works feature swimmers and superheroes in domestic scenes and interplanetary dreamscapes. Prestigious galleries around the world feature her paintings.
Bradford wasn’t always an artist, though. In fact, she didn’t decide to pursue art full-time until she was nearly 40 years old.
So how did this painter ascend to stardom?
Read on to find out!
The Story of Katherine Bradford
Katherine Bradford was born in 1942 in New York City. Because her upbringing was traditional for the time, she wasn’t encouraged to pursue the arts. Bradford earned a bachelor’s degree at Bryn Mawr College in the 1960s before getting married and giving birth to twins.
When the small family moved to Maine in the 1970s, Bradford found camaraderie in the local art community. She became heavily invested in the art world, even writing art reviews for a newspaper and founding an artists’ union.
Upon realizing that art was her calling, Bradford decided to move back to New York City. Despite being a single parent and starting her career at a later point than most, Katherine Bradford was undeterred. She earned an MFA from SUNY Purchase in 1987 and gave her first solo exhibitions in the 1990s.
Since then, her work has appeared in galleries in London, Paris, and Tokyo. She currently splits her time between New York City and Brunswick, Maine, with her spouse Jane O’Wyatt.
What is Katherine Bradford’s Art Style?
Bradford’s work consists primarily of figurative oil and acrylic paintings. Her work is representative but retains an abstract aesthetic. Although her subjects range from the real to the fantastical, her work usually focuses on a human center.
Her paintings frequently utilize a warm and vibrant color palette. The human figures in her work tend to be somewhat featureless, leaving them open to viewer interpretation.
Despite being a prolific painter, Bradford has also created mosaic murals in her characteristic style. A few of these mosaics appear as public works in New York MTA subway stations.
What Inspires Katherine Bradford?
Bradford’s inspiration seems to come from inner rather than outer sources. Real-world subjects appear in strange, imaginative, often dream-like contexts. Even Bradford’s featureless human figures signal a fascination with possibility in her work.
The decision to uproot her traditional family life in the late 1970s may explain the artist’s imaginative style. In an interview on Curator.guide, Bradford describes the moment she recognized the artistic lifestyle she wanted: “I saw that it involved a whole different way of living your life, an entire outlook, and a set of priorities with long hours in the studio making art.”
What Are Some of Katherine Bradford’s Art Pieces?
Each of Katherine Bradford’s paintings bears her signature bold, inviting aesthetic. But over the years, her chosen subjects have changed and shifted in fascinating new directions.
Let’s dive into some of Bradford’s best-known works.
Choice of Heads
Choice of Heads is one of Bradford’s acrylic paintings. This piece features two faceless women examining a selection of human heads. While their clothing is the same color as the vibrant blue background, the figures’ arms and legs are a bright peach, as are the human heads.
You might think two headless figures would make for a morbid image, but Bradford’s painting doesn’t feel that way. The women seem to be examining the heads casually, almost as if they were browsing racks at a clothing store.
Choice of Heads invites the viewer to imagine how it would feel if our bodies, or even our selves, were as changeable as our outfits.
Five Swimmers and 1 Float
Five Swimmers and 1 Float, an acrylic painting on handmade paper, is one of Bradford’s more recent works. This abstract piece features five people in a pool, all in various positions, and a ladder leading to a pink surface above the water.
Swimmers feature heavily in Bradford’s work from the past decade. The artist is fascinated by the relationship between human bodies and water. In Five Swimmers and 1 Float, the water seems to cut each swimmer in half, leaving them without a midsection.
This thoughtful detail raises more questions than answers, opening the painting to various interpretations.
Swim Team Outerspace
Swim Team Outerspace takes Bradford’s fascination with swimmers to a new level, depicting five figures swimming on the surface of a vibrant pink planet beneath a matching moon. Although the swimmers are in Bradford’s usual featureless style, their bodies are given careful shadow and dimension and look as if they could be in motion.
Dreamsong, a gallery that featured Swim Team Outerspace, describes the scene: “Bradford builds forms through thin washes of broad brushstrokes, inventing layered color fields and figures who are almost deity-like in space, alive in the world of creation. Emerging with a glow, they exist as community and as composition.”
What better way to explore the idea of artistic possibility than to put a swim team on another planet?
Where Can I See Katherine Bradford’s Art?
If you hope to see more of Bradford’s art, her Instagram account @kathebradford is a great place to start. The account is updated regularly with the artist’s work, interviews, and information on gallery exhibitions.
If you’re in Maine or Texas, you can see Bradford’s work in person in each of these cities!
Portland Museum of Art
The Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine, currently houses Bradford’s Flying Woman exhibit. This exhibit includes Bradford’s paintings but also features work in mediums like collage and colored pencil.
The pieces in this exhibit focus primarily on the image of the flying woman, Bradford’s most recent subject of interest. Each flying woman maintains a similar stance and color palette while being placed in juxtaposing environments and contexts.
Dallas Museum of Art
Although the Dallas Museum of Art doesn’t currently have a full exhibit of Bradford’s work, one of her pieces is part of its collection. Prom Swim, Green is a 2016 acrylic painting that features Bradford’s trademark swimmers in a glowing green dreamscape.
This incredibly surreal piece plays with perspective and light in a disorienting way, making it difficult to tell which way is up or down. Two figures in tulle skirts float above the swimmers in a strange dance. The scene is so fascinating and bizarre that you feel like you could fall into the canvas.
Art with Endless Possibility
Katherine Bradford’s paintings are an extension of her fascinating life journey. Making the change from housewife to artist was all the inspiration Bradford needed to fuel her work. Once she started living the kind of life she’d always dreamed about, her paintings became an extension of those dreams. Only time will tell where her colorful imagination will take her next.
After looking at several of Bradford’s paintings, what’s your favorite? Are you drawn more to her swimmers, superheroes, or flying woman? Tell us in the comments!
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!