Today we’d like to introduce you to Elaine Bradford.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I grew up in a small town in South Texas, called Alice. I remember wanting to be an artist from a young age. Both my grandmothers were painters. My dad’s mother died before I was born, but my mom’s mom was heavily influential in my life. When I would visit my grandparents, she would let me play with her oil paints in her garage (sometimes making huge messes). And she taught me how to crochet, which obviously had a big impact on my artwork as I got older.
I went to undergrad at The University of Texas in Austin. I had always thought being an artist meant being a painter. Then I discovered sculpture. I had great professors at UT who really opened my mind to the fact that sculpture could be very non-traditional. I managed to get away with making soft sculpture during our woodworking and welding assignments. It was then that I began to play with crochet and sewing in my artwork. After I graduated I worked for one of my former professors, Mel Ziegler, as his artist assistant. He became both my mentor and a friend. Working for him taught me an amazing amount about being a professional artist, both the good and bad.
I then went to grad school at the California Institute of the Arts, outside of Los Angeles. This was when I seriously began using crochet as a main form in my work. The first day of the semester was September 11th. As I sat in shock, watching the news for hours, in an unfamiliar place, away from family and friends, I began to crochet as comfort. It naturally worked its way into my practice. A few years in LA after I graduated, the affordability and comfort of Texas was calling me back. I planned to move back to Austin, but it had become pretty pricey while I was gone. I decided to give Houston a try because of the larger art scene and a lucky break on a super affordable duplex next door to one of my cousins. I never thought I would like this city. Now 13 years later Houston is home.
Please tell us about your art.
I am interested in nostalgia created through processes and objects. I use what is traditionally considered “women’s work” in non-traditional ways. As I said before, my grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was young and I have worked with this craft throughout my life. The act of crocheting cannot be separated from my memories of personal history. Crochet also brings to mind hours of labor, societal histories, and concepts of comfort and warmth. I find solace, both for myself personally, and projected onto the objects I am covering through the slow repetitive process. For a long time, I was making sweaters for taxidermy animals. I was using this act of comfort to create new stories for these inanimate objects. I eventually made an entire museum of “Unnatural History” to house my creations.
I am also a collector; I mine thrift and antique stores to find discarded pieces of people’s lives. The collectibles, which viewers might find on a shelf in their house, have been transformed. Found family photos have been repurposed. The pieces often become representations of relationships. The extensions of crochet and embroidery represent hopes, thoughts and fears that can bind people together, or tear them apart. These fibers are literal portrayals of being wrapped up in another person, and the distance or closeness that can be created between one another. There is a lot about longing and unrequited love. I am taking strangers discarded objects, connecting them with crochet, and creating personal portraits.
I’m very interested in storytelling and have been working with writers for years to add another layer to my sculptural works. In my most recent project, Routine Fables, I collaborated with Houston writer Sara Cress over the course of 2017 to create a new piece every week. I would make a small mixed media sculpture and Sara would respond with a poem. The 52 works were produced and released weekly online. They describe a year that was politically fraught and shifting. The works also reflect our experiences with Hurricane Harvey, which inundated parts of the Houston neighborhood we both live in, and flooded Sara’s home. These sculpture/poems document a year in our lives, both the good and the bad.
We often hear from artists that being an artist can be lonely. Any advice for those looking to connect with other artists?
The Houston art community has been amazingly supportive. If you want to connect with other artists, all you have to do is start going to art events that interest you and introduce yourself. Artists often tend to be introverted, but being social is, at times, part of the job. When I first moved back to Texas, I was lucky enough to meet a group of artists from the University of Houston who were very welcoming and introduced me to the city and other artists. I set up an informal critique group and we got together and talked about each other’s art and drank beer. My advice is go to all the openings you can and find the other artists whose work interests you, and who support and challenge you, and they will become your friends and advisors.
I also recommend shared studio spaces. In 2008, after being forced to move from a series of studio spaces, I was one of the founding members of BOX 13 Art Space in Houston’s East End. We banded together to find a location to house affordable studios and dedicated galleries to show work that didn’t necessarily fit in a commercial space. My seven years there introduced me to a ton of Houston artists who had studios in the building. Through the gallery exhibitions I was also able to meet artists from all over the country who I still follow and admire. Even though I now have my studio at my house, I’m proud that BOX 13 is still going strong, and I meet new people every time I go to an event. http://box13artspace.com/
It’s easy to find your community if you put yourself out there and look for it.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
Through the end of July our exhibition “Routine Fables” is up at Lawndale Art Center in the Museum District. It is the culmination of the yearlong collaboration and all 52 sculptures and poems are on display. We also produced a book of the project, which people can purchase from http://routinefables.com/. There will be a conversation and poetry reading on July 15th at 2pm that is open to the public. A friend and fellow artist, Brian Piana, recently interview Sara and I for his podcast Spill Some Stuff. You can listen to that here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/spill-some-stuff
My work is also currently on display at The Museum of Pocket Art, which is a travelling exhibition that exists in a wallet that is carried around to events by Austin artist Roberto Jackson Harrington. You can find more info about the project and find out where the exhibit will be next at http://www.mopaonline.com/.
Here in Houston I also have a permanent public installation at the Vinson Neighborhood Library. It was a commission for the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance in 2011. A life-sized elephant and 9 geese covered in colorful sweaters greet you as you enter the building. You can visit the installation whenever the building is open to the public. http://houstonlibrary.org/location/vinson-neighborhood-library
I have recently been making decorative crochet cactus as a side business to help support my art practice. Those I sell at local markets, and post on my Facebook page when I have a new batch. It’s an affordable way that people can help support my work. Look for when the next market will be on both my Instagram and Facebook pages.
And of course, my work can be seen on my website. I’m not the best at keeping things up to date, I much rather spend my time making art, but it’s mostly there. https://elainebradford.com/
- Website: elainebradford.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elainebradford_studio/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elaine.bradford
- Other: http://routinefables.com/