WITH PETER BRADLEY – director’s statement
I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley town of Saugerties, New York for 22 years; a few years less than Peter Bradley, whose house I drove past all the time without ever knowing he was there. Until two years ago.
I was introduced to Peter by Robert Langdon, who runs Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, a small storefront space dedicated to local artists. In June 2019 Robert showed new works by Peter, who hadn’t had a solo exhibit of his paintings in a long time. My wife, Katie Cokinos, went to the opening at Emerge, and Robert introduced her to Peter as a filmmaker. Peter said, “You should make a film about me.” Katie suggested her husband instead, and told me later but I forgot all about it. Six months later my daughter, Lula, was helping Robert at the gallery over her winter break from college. She came home one day and said, “You should make a movie about Peter Bradley.” So I did - because he lives 5 minutes down the road, his story is amazing and, remarkably, no one else had ever showed up to record it previously.
I instantly liked Peter when we met, and he was excited when I asked him about coming over with a camera. Because we live just minutes apart, we got into a relaxed production rhythm, working just 3-5 hours at a time. Sometimes I’d film Peter painting; sometimes I would sit him down to ask him about one subject or another. Peter was always happy to talk about anything I wanted to know and I was happy just to be able to hear – and record for posterity - the amazing story of his life. Fireside chats became a motif because Peter’s old stone house relies on fireplaces to keep the rooms warm. When the Covid lockdown hit in March, I had maybe 20 hours of material.
Up to that time I thought I would interview other people about Peter and his work to provide historical context, interpretive art-speak, etc. But there was no way to do this because of the pandemic. And as I reviewed and organized the footage I had, I also started to see the greatest strength of the film in its solitary subject and singular location.
In early May, we resumed filming – with me masked up and Peter sporting colorful bandanas. It was warmer now, and because we were mostly working outside, we both felt safe. It was around this time that my relationship with Peter and his wife, Debra, started to become more intimate and I learned of their financial insecurity. I felt an urgency to finish whatever I was making and get it out into the world so that people would know about Peter and buy his paintings. By the end of June, I decided that I had enough material to start editing in earnest. One of the last things I filmed was the scene of Peter tending his rosebush in the backyard (which appears at the very end of the film). The winter landscape I first encountered had transformed into the warm colors of summer and this also felt like the completion of a seasonal arc.
By the beginning of August, 2020 I had put together a long rough cut, and over the next few months I would pick up interviews and shots of Peter working, revise my edit, then show it to various colleagues for feedback. In November I heard from Robert that Peter was being courted by Karma Gallery, and by early 2021 it was official; the coming Fall, Peter would have a solo show in NYC for the first time in 45 years!
I chose not to expand the film story to include Peter’s recent rise to success for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I liked the “before” story which I had captured; Peter just painting for painting’s sake. I think it’s a more interesting subject than anything pertaining to the business of art. That’s another story – one tied up with thorny perceptions of race and the capricious nature of the whole scene – that I’m neither qualified nor motivated to tell. It’s also the case that I was not permitted to film Peter’s shows in 2021, so it was, shall I say, a non-starter.
A final note pertaining to my… whiteness: Happily, I hadn’t considered my race relative to Peter and the project until I started to show rough cuts to (mostly other white liberal) friends and colleagues and found myself being cautioned about the challenges I would face in the sphere of Representation. It’s true, of course; there couldn’t be a worse time for me to be the messenger of Peter’s story. I get it. But at the same time, when I met Peter there was no one else showing up – certainly no one related to the media or press interested in him or his art. I was with Peter on a routine basis as all the George Floyd, Aubry, and BLM events unfolded. He has a big screen TV on all the time and the stuff was just there in the room – which made it all the more therapeutic for both of us to have a great excuse to mosey out back to Pete’rs studio… and focus on our crafts.
- Alex Rappoport