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Wearing jeans, a neatly ironed striped, button down-collared shirt
and soft suede leather boots, retired IPFW art department associate
professor Norman Bradley moves effortlessly through the suburban
ranch style home he and his photographer wife Dixie share in
southwest Fort Wayne en route to their shared basement studio.
A smattering of the couple’s work is scattered in the upstairs
rooms, then gathering in numbers, they seem to cascade along the
stairway walls before erupting in a bounty of dozens of works – old,
new and in progress – hung, stacked and stored like a combination
gallery and storage room.
Overwhelming in quantity, style and color, the scene cries out for
guidance which Bradley kindly offers in the comfortable, familiar
manner of the art historian and artist he remains.
Alluding to several deft landscapes which have been the subject of
his efforts over the last two years, Bradley volunteers that he’s not
a ‘plein air’ painter, rather he works from his imagination and
“These are not of a specific place or time,” he explains, “but pure
invention. They draw on memory and feeling. I don’t work from the
photographs Dixie has taken during our many travels but from here in
this basement where I draw my inspiration.
“Some viewers look to spot, identify objects like trees, houses and
so on, but that’s not what they’re about. I’m a ‘painterly’ painter, and it is the paint and its quality that is the subject matter.
“Purposely I keep them small. I began the series with these smaller
(8 x 10-inch) images then moved up to these larger (18 x 24-inch)
pieces. The idea is that I want the viewer to move closer and examine
the impasto and inspect the brush strokes, and blotches of color.
“For my nonrepresentational work I use a much larger field (measured
in square feet, not inches) and they are better to view from a
distance to get the effect.”
Bradley confesses to being a fast painter. After first rapidly
covering his canvas to completion he may go back and revisit certain
paintings, sometimes years later, to “touch up” a spot, but he’s
mostly interested in capturing the immediacy of the creative act and
wants the viewer to have the same experience.
On the other, hand in other pieces like the pair of Abe Lincoln
portraits he continues to nurture the images and, though they are two
years old, he doesn’t consider them quite finished.
The Lincoln paintings can be traced to Bradley’s long and avid
interest in American and the Civil War history, a fascination that
was perked when he served as a U.S. Army illustrator between his
academic studies in Mexico.
Born in Fort Wayne, the youngest of six siblings, Bradley grew up
during the Depression. When his older brothers and sister moved out
of the nest. his mother rented out rooms of the family’s home on
Fairfield to families whose relatives were patients at the old
Lutheran Hospital across the street. (“It was a bed and breakfast
before we knew what they were,” Bradley added.)
His father, who eked out a living in the insurance business, had
flown bi-winged aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force in World
War I and along with his wife encouraged the young Bradley’s ideas of
higher education. But, alas, there was no money after he graduated
from South Side, so he began his pursuit in the fine arts at the old
Fort Wayne Art Institute.
After a year there Bradley and two like-minded classmates – Don
Kruse and John Heitzman – pooled resources (Bradley earned his from
working at the former Centlivre and Falstaff brewery) and headed off
to Mexico City in Heitzman’s 1940 Plymouth. Bradley would return
several times to Mexico City College (later in his own 1950 Buick)
and the brewery until he graduated in 1959. After time out for the
military he would earn his master’s at the University of the Americas
in 1964. (“It was essentially the same school; only the name had
changed,” said Bradley.)
During his studies in both art history and Spanish, Bradley became
fascinated with the field of pre-Columbian art, a subject, along with
Spanish, which continues to inspire and inform his work to this day.
Moreover he acknowledges his admiration for painters like Turner,
Constable and Bellows.
He launched his extensive run of shows (more than 200 so far) almost
immediately after graduation and then found work as an art history
and painting instructor at Parsons College in Iowa before he returned
to Fort Wayne in 1967 to the Art Institute and later IPFW, from where
he retired in 2000.
Bradley’s work can be seen in private and permanent collections and
at public places like Chops, and he’s preparing an exhibition for the
Artlink “Self-Portrait” show scheduled to open April 9. The event
which will feature upwards of 125 entries should be an exciting vista
of local and area artists with specially taken, real-time photos
affixed to each entry as they are hung.
“I think some who haven’t been in touch lately may find my offering
a little shocking since I’ve lost my hair as the result of the
treatments I’m undergoing since I was diagnosed with lymphoma,”
volunteered Bradley. “It (the cancer) seems to be under control and
they’re taking care of it.”
Aside from the forthcoming Artlink invitational Bradley is excited
about a summer’s showing in the Focus Gallery at the Fort Wayne
Museum of Art. Although it hasn’t been made exactly formal, FWMA
representatives have extended an invitation to Bradley for a
two-month solo appearance which will focus on the cross-over between
his landscapes and abstract renderings.
“There’s an obvious similarity with the way I fashion clouds and
landscapes and my nonrepresentational work, and I was pleased that
they (the Museum) recognized the carry over,” Bradley said. “I’m
honored to have a chance to have my work there.”
Although Bradley expresses some disappointment in the fact that some
people these days don’t appreciate the great influence of American
abstract painters (a visitor to one of his exhibitions once scribbled
“a waste of paint” on a comment card), he has faith that the general
public will understand, maybe even like his paintings.
In the meantime, while people catch up with Bradley, he and his wife
will no doubt continue their travels to Latin America and Europe to
refine their focus and frame their fields in search of that very