WITH PETER BRADLEY – film synopsis
When filmmaker Alex Rappoport met then-79 year-old abstract artist Peter Bradley in early 2020, Bradley hadn't sold many paintings or had a major show in over four decades - yet he still painted every day in a shipping-container studio heated by a wood stove, no matter what the weather. Over time, Rappoport recorded Bradley's fascinating life story, which occupies a unique and seemingly overlooked place in art history.
At once an intimate portrait and a deep study of the creative process, WITH PETER BRADLEY is situated entirely at the artist’s rural home and studio, and unfolds over the course of changing seasons. The sole figure on screen, Bradley narrates his life is in a series of unscripted conversations: often provocative, sometimes bitter, and full of surprises. Adopted as an infant, for years Bradley thought musician Miles Davis was his father, which adds dimension to a lifelong passion for jazz, inextricably linked to his creative process: Bradley paints to music, seeing sound as color and translating the sensation to canvas.
Despite the systemic racism of society in general and the art world in particular, Bradley built an incredible resumé before the age of 35: the first Black art dealer on Madison Avenue (at the prestigious Perls Galleries); likely the first Black abstract artist represented by a major New York gallery (André Emmerich); and curator of what is considered the first integrated modern art show in America (The DeLuxe Show). As Bradley tells it, DeLuxe (1971) was conceived in direct response to racial politics in the art world at the time, with the express purpose of showing abstract “color field” work by Black and white artists side by side. Though still disheartened by the lack of interest in abstract work by Black artists, Bradley’s undying commitment to color field painting persists to this day. On screen, Bradley explores innovative methods of applying paint to canvas, inspired by nature and the colorful flowers he tends daily in his garden and greenhouse.
Talented, willful and arrogant, Bradley lived life to its fullest - until he fell upon hard times in the 1980s that nearly ended his career. 25 years ago he retreated to an 18th century stone house in the Hudson Valley, and it is here that we meet the artist at a critical juncture - deeply committed to the expressive power of color, painting gorgeous pictures at a prolific pace, but without an audience to appreciate them. Canvases pile up on the floor, his financial situation grows dire. Yet the film is buoyed by Peter’s exuberant spirit, warm sense of humor, and often-salty opinions. And finally, the epilogue: Bradley is rediscovered and selling his work again. “They’ve gotta make some room for me,” he says. And finally, they do.
WITH PETER BRADLEY is a celebration of art-making, resilience, and the creative contributions of Black artists to American life. It focuses a long-overdue lens on Bradley and shines a light on his rightful place in the ongoing movement toward racial equity in the arts and our society.