Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Slamdance ’23: With Peter Bradley

Jackson Pollock often listened to early New Orleans and Swing jazz while dribbling and splattering his abstract expressionist masterworks, but reportedly, there were a few square easy listening records in his collection. In contrast, Peter Bradley’s taste in music is as hip as it gets. Perhaps the least soulful artist lists in his collection would be Stan Kenton, who is still pretty cool. Much like Pollock before him, Bradley has faced resistance in the art world. Now in his eighties, Bradley is finally experiencing a critical renaissance, which is sure to gain momentum following the premiere of Alex Rappoport’s documentary With Peter Bradley at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.

Bradley was adopted in a family outside of Pittsburgh that often hosted traveling jazz musicians. He grew up knowing artists like Art Blakey, whom he still listens to today. He was even able to develop a “special relationship” with Miles Davis. Nevertheless, art was his thing—first drawing and then almost exclusively painting. Although his experiences with art schools were difficult, he wound up working for one of the most elite New York galleries during the day, while developing on his own pieces at night. Yet, the established art world never accepted him.

According to Bradley, he refused to play the they assigned to him—and it is fascinating to hear him explain how so. Bradley adamantly refused to create representational art, which was the only suitably style for the sort of racially politicized pieces that were expected of him as a Black artist. While not identifying as an abstract expressionist either, he explains his work explores color for its own sake.

At one point, Bradley excoriates the “anti-racist” posturing of a show curated by [white artist] Larry Rivers, filled with crude nooses and the like, which he reluctantly participated in. Bradley never directly addresses partisan politics during Rappoport’s doc, but he certainly sounds like an iconoclastic free-thinker, with little patience for dogma or cliché.

He also has great taste in music (including John Coltrane, Clifford Brown), so he should be very happy with Javon Jackson’s original soundtrack (so should all viewers of discerning taste). The tenor player definitely evokes the vibe of vintage Blue Note hardbop, but he keeps it a bit lighter and springier, to help propel the film along. Jackson gets some especially expressive help from Jeremy Manasia on piano, with trumpeter
Greg Glassman, bassist David Williams, and drummer Charles Goold completing the combo.

The combination of Bradley’s straight talk and Jackson’s music is quite an entertaining viewing experience. Essentially, Rapopport’s strategy as the director was to keep out of everyone’s way, which was shrewd. As a result, his film is quite welcoming and insightful. Highly recommended for fans of jazz and non-representational art,
With Peter Bradley screens again today (1/24) in Park City and through Sunday (1/29) online, as part of Slamdance ’23.