This Mirror Can Crack a Stone
Bradford Graves primarily worked in stone and possessed a deep and unyielding fascination with archeology and all things of the earth. His sculpture is complex and rich with
meaning, simultaneously ancient and modern, raw and sophisticated, solid and luminous. I first became acquainted with Bradford Graves’ body of work several years after his death
in 1998. Verna Gillis, his wife of many years, provided much enthusiastic commentary about his passions and technical aptitude. But deeper knowledge of Bradford Graves’ unique
inventiveness was to be found only by looking at his massive body of work.
On my first visit to Graves’ New York City studio, where much of his work is housed, I was struck by the power and solemnity of this collection of stone images.. Entering his work
space was as if walking into a quarry, a graveyard, an ancient ruin. They, like all sculpture, respond to the force of gravity – form a relationship with the surface on which they lay. This
was at the root of Graves’ extraordinary conceptual approach in making his sculpture. Graves considered that stone came from the earth and with human intervention, became
sculpture, to lie on the ground only to return to the earth after time. Graves created flat horizontal slabs that sprawled on the floor and upright totemic blocks recalling the ancient sites
that provided the inspiration to make these pieces.
Graves’ important mystical series “This Mirror Can Crack a Stone”, inspired by Thoreau, hints at meaning that begs for deciphering and yet remains as enigmatic as the sources that
provided the initial inspiration. In this series we particularly discover the relationship of Graves’ sculpture to the earth. “This Mirror Can Crack a Stone #19”, 1984, located on the
William Patterson University campus, rests directly on the ground. After many years the sculpture is succumbing to gravity and the elements. The piece threatens to return to its
natural form and once again become one with the earth. It is evident in thoughtful and mysterious works such as we find in the “Mirror” series that Graves was an alchemist, a
physicist, and a philosopher. Unearthing the range of Graves works is like excavating the archeological sites that he found so compelling. In particular, his early works possess a
primal quality that is reminiscent of the early figures of prehistoric man.
Graves was born and raised in Dallas, Texas in 1939. In 1958 he moved to New York City where he studied at the School of Visual Arts, the American School and the New School.
At the New School he studied with Seymour Lipton, who served as his early great influence. In addition to his formal art studies, Graves was assistant to Alfred Van Loen from 1959 to
1962. Graves’ professional entrance into the art world came at a time when sculptors such as Michael Heizer, David Smith, Robert Smithson and James Rosati were producing
sculpture. But Graves’ choice of cut limestone over the steel, aluminum and plastic of so much modern sculpture makes his work seem almost subversive – counter to the thrust of
most contemporary art of the time. Possessed by a deep conceptual and physical connection to the earth Graves persisted in his quest to connect the ancient with the modern and in
doing so, anchors his sculpture beside “popular” works of importance to this day.
Graves was an explorer with an insatiable appetite for archeological discovery and a seeker of new cultural experiences. He traveled abroad to many places he referred to as “stone
cultures”. During these times, he immersed himself in the technical and archeological training that would inform his art making throughout his life. In 1962 he was on the Island of
Sifnos in Greece for traditional ceramic studies. The next year he worked on the Massada Archeological Expedition in Israel. In 1966, 1968 and 1970 he was in Yugoslavia &
Czechoslovakia. In 1972 he traveled to Iran, Afghanistan and India. In 1982 he was at the Festival D`Art in Haiti. In 1983, 1987 and 1993 he was in Scotland. And, between 1985 and
1995 Graves traveled to West Africa (twice), Egypt and Nanao, Japan. He made innumerable trips to the Southwest, an area that provided constant inspiration.
Graves was also a pragmatist and from 1974 to 1980 Graves was on the sculpture faculty at Parsons School of Design in New York and from 1969 to 1998 he was on the fine arts
faculty of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey. Although he was most comfortable with a chisel or pencil in hand, he also was a writer who articulated his thoughts
on sculpture, stone, the creative process and the human condition in numerous essays. Of his work he wrote, “The making of sculpture may be taken as my desire for wholeness, the
recognition of my identity as being a part of the earth and its materials. In the confrontation between my inner image of what I want to make and the actuality of the physical materials,
a dialogue begins, and the result of that dialogue is a sculptural statement”.
The inspiration that gave rise to Bradford Graves’ work continues to emanate from his large body of sculptures, drawings and digital prints. Just a few moments with his pieces will
cause any viewer to feel the complex and mystical power that is imbued in all of Graves' exceptional works.