According to C.J. Bradford’s professors at the University of Oklahoma, he was never going to amount to anything resembling a successful artist. His work didn’t push enough boundaries and it wasn’t “out there” enough to compete with his contemporaries. Luckily, his friend and classmate Greg Burns gave him a piece of advice that has proven invaluable.
“He told me not to worry about what they thought,” Bradford said. “You have to keep in mind this was the 1960s, and things were pretty strange during that time.”
Today, people still buy his art. And he’s doing exactly what he likes by making art that is challenging, engaging and whimsical. The crisp lines of his pen-and-ink works are intended to engage the viewer in a conversation.
Where that conversation leads sometimes surprises even the artist.
“I do festivals, so I’m right there with my work,” he said. “I’ve had all kinds of strange conversations with people who think I am from another planet. There isn’t anything I haven’t heard.”
His work often involves logic and philosophy, and he likes to incorporate puzzles of some kind into the work as a way to frame the conversation. Some of his latest pieces even involve communication between individual pieces.
“My newest thing is to have a piece of string connecting two different pictures,” Bradford said. “[There’s] a problem in the first picture, leading to the second picture.”
There are also logic problems and theological problems. His favorite way to involve the viewer is to make them have to work a little bit toward a solution. It’s not only visually engaging; there’s almost always something lurking beneath the surface.
Bradford is an avid reader and finds much of his inspiration from theological texts, especially those that use animal imagery.
“Once you start training your brain to be creative and imaginative, it just flows out like [it would from] a broken jar,” he said.
He doesn’t shy away from his work being characterized as whimsical; he encourages it.
Even in the silliest of his animal portraits, with their punchy colors and expressive faces, there are keen observations about the world. Bradford is always eager to hear what you think.
This month’s art show provides an opportunity to see new pieces and meet the artist. Bradford will travel from his home in Flower Mound, Texas, for a free demonstration at 1 p.m. Aug. 17. His art is on display through Aug. 30.