New York

Lisa Bradley

E.M. Donahue

To the casual observer, Lisa Bradley’s paintings may simply suggest spectacular optical effects achieved by way of a monochromatic painterly medium. The paintings—all nearly square and in various shades of blue—evoke the swirling tumbling forces of water and sky. They seem to derive their power to confound the eye from the abstract potential of photography: the maelstrom viewed through a camera obscura. But, in fact, the longer one spends with them, the more disorienting the paintings become. Or perhaps “disorienting” isn’t quite the word; all the blueness makes them oddly tranquil. To look at them is to feel as you do after turning a summersault: perfectly still, but at the same time full of spin.

In Sufism, spinning is viewed as a way to channel divinity; Abstract Expressionists attempted something similar in their handling of paint. Their depictions of motion—invoked by rough, impulsive gesture, or by luminous atmospheric masses—call to mind (among other things) a state of spiritual striving and (alternately) the attainment of a certain enlightened consciousness. Paint, like spinning, is thereby both a means to enlightenment and enlightenment itself. So it is with Bradley’s paintings. Though they are descriptive they seem to assert at the same time a certain spiritual condition.

Unlike organized religion, painting evolves; it asserts new ways of thinking, looking, and being in the world. Bradley’s works, which stem from the tradition of Abstract Expressionism, suggest a way in which color and movement can both describe and possibly induce a state of exalted detachment. Working in the tradition of the New York School, and informed by her own considerable knowledge of Eastern religious practice, she gives us paintings that describe a spiritual state but that are, aside from that, remarkably handsome and technically accomplished: beautiful mysteries evolving from mystical thought.

Justin Spring