London-based American artist Paige Bradley is best known for her striking figurative sculptures in bronze. A professionally trained sculptor, Bradley was voted into the National Sculpture Society in 2001 and soon after gained popularity for her work “Expansion,” which depicted a female figure in a meditative pose against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. These figurative pieces define a body of work that can be traced back to Bradley’s childhood, when she was first struck by art (and bronze in particular).
When she was nine years old, Bradley was captivated by a bronze sculpture she saw in the window of an art gallery she was walking by with her mother. Noticing her daughter’s fierce interest in the artwork, her mother quickly enrolled her in art classes, and it wasn’t long before Bradley’s natural talent caught the attention of a professional artist who was on the selection panel of a competition run by the local foundry. The competition was open to high school students in the county, who were invited to submit a clay sculpture that, if selected by the judges, would go on to be cast in bronze. Bradley won the contest, and so began not only her relationship with the metal itself, but also with the local foundry, which would go on to become one of her main collaborators throughout her career. Bradley has cast many of her pieces with this very foundry over the last 25 years, and her relationship with the workshop is both professional and personal.
Among other things, Bradley considers bronze to be a fascinating and versatile material. In a recent interview with My Modern Met, she explained: “Bronze is unique. There is no other material I have found which is so soft, yet so strong. So lasting, and grows colorfully rich with age. It has an amazing history dating back to 2500 BCE. To be among the artists who work in bronze — becoming a brother and sister of many, among such an extended timeline — is truly profound. In the 20th century, we learned how to weld bronze. Now we can weld even the smallest pieces onto delicate details, and they stay rigid, is quite exciting.”
Bronze has certainly proven to be a reliable ally in Bradley’s work, and many of her sculptures would be difficult to cast in another material. This is especially true of the works she is most well known for, which feature cracks and openings in their bodies to allow a bright yellow light to shine through, making them come alive with electricity. These pieces, which include the famous “Expansion” and other works like “Illumination, Half Life,” are intended to remind viewers that everyone has something powerful, or a kind of driving force, inside of them. Working with artisans like the craftsmen in the foundry has enabled her to bring her visions to life, and she says that the best work comes from the artist’s ability to let go and allow experienced technicians to advise them how to best realize the things in their head.