Rebecca Bradley integrates paintings with large scale installation work and utilises found objects scavenged from defunct sites.   Her work is a way of recording a history of events, but far from being a depressing representation of decline it is imbued with a sense of excitement for the possibility of change and the expectation of what may lie around the next corner.’

Review of Meanwhile, by Judt Fisher in The Thin Air, 2017

Hers is no Romantic sensibility of unchanging, eternal natural spectacle. As well as commemorating the work of remembering, the operations she carries out on the field of the painting (some of which are gentle, coaxing, others of which represent much more aggressive interventions onto the canvas) invoke the acts of reshaping and re-making to which the landscape— a construct framed from its inception by and through a human perspective— is and always has been subject.’

‘These are paintings that deserve to be viewed close-up and sidelong, so that we are reminded why it is that people still do and should and need to paint.’

Sarah Hayden, excerpts from talk delivered on the occasion of the opening of Provisional View Exhibition, September 9th 2015

‘She uses found materials such as foxed paper and faded postcards to make quietly restrained paintings of gentle decay. The results at first seem muted and spare, almost minimal, but also present an absorbing investigation into the transitions between two and three dimensional spaces, using shallow relief, recession and torn, frayed layers.’

Sarah Kelleher review of Rebecca’s work in Outbox, Paper Visual Art Journal, 2013

Outstanding textural paintings based on landscape’

Aidan Dunne, chief art critic of the Irish Times, Review of Rebecca’s work, June 2007

Making Memory Sensible By Dr. Sarah Hayden

Essay to Accompany Provisional View Exhibition at SternView Gallery September 2015

This exhibition is titled Provisional View. Rather than merely captioning, and thereby capping off the work, this title is an invitation to keep things open. Or perhaps it is a warning. An invitation to consider these works as workings out of the contingencies, the conditions to which all of our visual perceptions, and their objects, are subject, and, with it, a warning—that what we at first glance see in the paintings and drawings hanging here should be construed as, likewise, provisional, temporary and tentative.

When Rebecca Bradley talks about this work, she talks about landscape and about memory (and much else besides). Neither term is taken or used at face value. There is nothing unthinking or automatic about the practice represented here. Instead, these paintings and drawings interrogate, test and reflect upon the nature of those two concepts. On Memory, Landscape and their productive, mutually provisional interrelation.

In these paintings, the etymology of the verb ‘to remember’ is reconstructed as the antonym of dis-member. So that if to dismember is to take apart, rend asunder, then to re-member is a putting back together. A restitution of corporeal integrity. This spurious etymology is not one borne out by the OED, but it is nonetheless suggested by the work. Remembering, here, is made manifest as itself a practice, a (provisional) process rather than a dubiously solid, concrete noun.

Reading these paintings in terms of the contingent act of remembering rather than the pseudo-fixity of memory shifts the focus to the process of re-membering, which seems entirely appropriate, as these are intensely, and articulately processual/process-oriented works. [There is something else going on in the 3 drawings you passed on the way into the space here— but I’ll come back to that in a moment]. As for the paintings— oils on canvas, mixed media on canvas and on aluminium, acrylic, graphite and ink on paper— their surfaces articulate, even archive, the processes involved in their making. Built up, especially in the case of the largest of the oils, by dint of a seeming infinity of temporally stacked operations, they present surfaces that are at least as texturally variegate as they are visually intricate. These are paintings that ask to be touched. [please don’t touch them] Pitted and puckered and splashed and dripped upon, scraped and scratched and incised, they solicit a haptic encounter. The photos don’t quite do them justice. These are paintings that deserve to be viewed closeup and sidelong, so that we are reminded why it is that people still do and should and need to paint.

The materiality insisted upon by Bradley’s handling of the paint is augmented by her integration, at times of unexpected substances. Substances which further enrich and engrain those textures and which reference indexically, the sites they cite. In Provisional View (Woodsmoke), a grit of ash and charcoal has been worked into the paint. This embedding of found matter interests me in part, I think, because it further complicates an already uncertainty destabilizing the presentation/reception of these paintings as landscapes or as abstract. Here, burnt matter, forming a carbonic intermesh, calls attention to its own present materiality and to something once perceived and now absent. Allusive and auto-indexical. Reticent, dragged lines that assert and reveal themselves slowly. Paint puckers and creases. The surface is ridged and vascular. And elsewhere it is finegrained and powdery. The painting actualizes, memorializes and invites haptic encounter. It conjoins, paradoxically, the kinetic and the still. A painting that looks to be about greyness— its composition and its variety—discloses, on closer inspection, mauves and yellowy clotted creams layered, mottled throughout, undercut by accents of cobalt and steel.

Bradley paints on-site and in-studio. She is a painter whose practice maintains a real connection with the physical environment, and yet there is, as I see it, something of a fugitive impulse in the processes to which she subjects her work. The painting might be thought to start in a particular, geo-locatable physical place, but the process of painting moves it far away from there. Introducing alien matter— charcoal, carbonized wood in this case, or rubble, dust, mud in other series—into the canvas appears to pull it back to its source text— to a site of origin when these substances came. However, at the same time, these acts of inclusion serve to dislocate the work from its ostensible genre. Bradley’s acts of rubbing-in distance these works from the history of landscape painting and propel them somewhere else— somewhere less sure.

This, too, seems entirely appropriate. As this work also could be conceived to be all about dislocations. Translocations. Translations. Bradley’s landscapes— and I use the term tentatively (provisionally, again, and with all appending caveats) may derive their initial impetus from her encounter with a particular location but they do not purport to represent that place as any sort of physical actuality. Instead, if they are representational at all— because for all that I know many of these works refer back to a real tangible world, I can’t seem to help seeing them as abstracts— then what they represent is the landscape as it is accessed not by train, plane or bike—but via the infinitely less reliable means of (mental) transport that is re-membering. I am inclined to think of these works as landscapes translated. It’s a translation which, in the first place, transforms place into painting and, in many cases, transmutes them from representation to abstraction. And this, in each case, to varying degrees.

Understood in this way, those laboriously worked surfaces start to look like the traced rendering of the constitutive, inescapably creative act that is remembering itself. Bradley’s paintings recall us to reflect that the apparent re-seeing of physical space in thought/mind cannot be equated to the instant, smooth projection of image on screen. The mind’s eye is no camera lucida. Its operations have much more in common with the layering, building up, scraping back, erasing that are recorded (and disclosed) by these paintings. The more we understand about memory, the less we can think of it as anything other than provisional. Everything new we learn about its working diminishes our faith in its capacity for recording, capturing and induces (or entices) us to consider it as a process of creative production. The remembering of place that is commemorated by these paintings is informed by this awareness of memory’s elusiveness, its shifting instability. Memories feel sure until they are pressed upon. They seem solid until we interrogate their detail. Bradley’s work materially registers these pressings and interrogations by which memory is activated. Paint is lifted, applied, removed, reworked, retinted, retextured over and again, much as we will probe, remember and remake our memories, in an attempt, always in vain, to get back to somewhere that exists not now but anew, and only in that provisional mnemonic zone. 

Similar operations and similar compromises pertain to the act of translation, which is best attempted, and most satisfyingly achieved when the translator who is willing to consider the translated text as a new production rather than trying (and inevitably failing) to maintain all of the text’s original features. The transformation of a text into an entirely new language—replacing, in the process, all of its component parts makes it anew. Every sound, every image, every rhythm must be imagined/construed afresh. Nothing can be presumed to have survived the cross-linguistic transfer intact.

The translator can only hope that some essence, some essential/ crucial quiddity of the original can survive the transfer. Likewise, Bernstein suggests that ‘Abstraction is not only an idea of form but also a matter of defamiliarization and derangement’. None of these works bear a stable, uncontested relation to figuration/representation. Approached on different days, with different attitudes, considered in terms of different reference points— Turner or Tapiès, the space of the world or the space delimited by the canvas— these paintings will appear as altogether different things.

The notion of abstraction as translation presents another way to think of these paintings:  As abstracted landscapes. Relying on a concept of abstraction as, to borrow Bernstein’s line again, ‘a field of activity as much as a consummated visual style, a direction as much as a destination’. As Simon Schama put it, ‘Before it can ever be the repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock’. Memory itself encoded, enacted in these laboriously worked oils. The opposite of a depthless snapshot, these are slowly worked up and multi-layered. Nothing of the instant and everything of the process. A process that brings us everywhere but directly to a single place. So that the finished painting in-corporates its making, its re-membering— putting back together in an intensely visible way.

Other works are much more gestural, such as the series of drawings on paper: response to the interpellation of the urban built environment by rampant, rogue organic growth which cuts across its geometry with such energy as to render the architectural backdrop almost obscured. The dead building recedes behind/beneath the drama of new, tenacious lifeforms. Again, movement confronts stillness. But on the page, the monochrome palette rescues the painting from alleging anything like a dialectical connection between these two, traditionally opposed forces. Instead, the palette effectively flattens the illusion of depth, transposing concrete and cellulose into the same zone of, perhaps, 2 ½ dimensions. Natural and built components conspire to collaborate on the construction of a live, vibratory oscillation, which cannot be resolved.

By focusing on the arbitrary, faulty nature of memory, we risk producing an equally false impression/mirage of a stable, verifiable, real, pure place that is inaccurately preserved and accordingly unfaithfully represented location. However the landscape is no more stable/static than even the most fluxy, fickle memory. And Bradley’s paintings recall that too. Hers is no Romantic sensibility of unchanging, eternal natural spectacle. As well as commemorating the work of remembering, the operations she carries out on the field of the painting (some of which are gentle, coaxing, others of which represent much more aggressive interventions onto the canvas) invoke the acts of reshaping and re-making to which the landscape— a construct framed from its inception by & through a human perspective— is and always has been subject. Bradley’s process— paintings respond to and reflect the interventions man-made and climactic, changes wrought by animals and plants as well as rivers and erosion. The fiction of memory, like the fiction of landscape commemorated presents// a stasis that is as elusive in the exterior environment as it is within the interior of the psyche. Under these conditions, amid so many contingencies, all we can hope for is the provisional view presented/promised here.

By way of a concluding comment on this show, I’d like to steal one last time from Bernstein, citing a line that seems particularly apt in relation to Bradley’s work: ‘What’s most radical is not the actualization of “pure abstraction” but the oscillation of figure and nonfigure, a fort-da of appearance/disappearance’.