Bradley Gordon: Delta Wild

Anne-Marie Gordon
by Vanessa Gregory - Mississippi - December 2012/January 2013

A Mississippi painter's rogue style casts Southern fauna in a vivid new light

Even the artist seems hard-pressed to explain the power of his paintings, the lure of his full-feathered wild turkeys and his magnificently antlered bucks. “I can’t describe it with words,” Bradley Gordon says one afternoon in his Oxford, Mississippi, studio, talking about the first buck he committed to canvas. “But something happened when I was painting that deer. I guess the planets kind of aligned.”

Fate has been good to Gordon lately. In the past year, the thirty-five-year-old painter joined the Fischer Galleries in Jackson and caught the attention of Alabama-based designer Billy Reid and his wife, Jeanne. The couple fell for the color and scale in Gordon’s paintings, and his canvases, including Buck on Darkness and Mallard Bomber, now hang in Reid’s Dallas, Atlanta, and Florence, Alabama, stores. “The connection was really just a love for his work,” Reid says. “His approach is clean, and his work has warmth.”

That style—contemporary but not cold—is helping Gordon stand out in a crowd of wildlife painters. He’s becoming known for large-scale, multihued portraits of iconic Southern animals set against stark backdrops. The beasts often appear backlit by a circular glow similar to the style used by Byzantine artists in paintings of saints and other holy figures. “He’s just doing something that’s so different, and it’s very striking,” says gallery owner Marcy Fischer Nessel. 

Gordon’s technique involves carving into wet layers of paint with chopsticks to create an organic effect, as in Roadrunner, for which he employed the simple tools to achieve clearly delineated feathers. The chopsticks—and the Taoist quote Gordon keeps tacked beside his easel—are reminders of years spent teaching English in Taiwan and Japan. For Gordon, who was raised in the Mississippi Delta, life abroad proved pivotal. He discovered the trippy, pop-inspired work of Takashi Murakami and came home with a fresh appreciation for his childhood. 

Gordon didn’t paint his first animal until two years ago, when he returned from Narita, Japan, to Clarksdale and opened a small gallery where he showcased his work and taught private lessons. As a student, he focused on human figures, as did his favorite art teacher at the University of Mississippi, the Southern master Jere Allen. 

The deer was first, then turtles, dogs, hummingbirds, and horses—the creatures roaming the fields and woods of his memory. “Maybe being away for so long, living in big cities, I now see how special these animals are to me,” Gordon says.

After all, he practically grew up outside. He played in cotton trailers, logged time gigging frogs, and spent nights with his father at their hunting camp, an old school bus on stilts behind a levee. Gordon also used his imagination and hands to build. “I didn’t have a lot of other kids around, so I worked on junk, I made things,” he says. “I was always tinkering.” He’s still a mix of mechanic and artist. Outside his backyard studio, there’s a motorcycle engine he’s rebuilding. Inside, Gordon finished the interior of his sunlit workroom with reclaimed wood and corrugated tin. 

He built the studio and moved to Oxford—closing the Clarksdale shop in the process—shortly after marrying his wife, Anne-Marie, in 2011. (She owns the high-end clothing boutique Cicada, where Reid first spotted Gordon’s paintings.) Gordon sometimes paints for fifteen hours a day, striving to capture a side of the South few see. “Some people go to the Delta and think, ‘This is the most dreadful place I’ve ever seen. Everything’s dead in the winter, and there’s nothing but barren fields,’” Gordon says. “To me, that’s the ultimate peace and oneness.” Even his frames, which he builds from cypress boards salvaged from abandoned shacks, pay homage to the land. The planks are imperfect and dirty and as much a part of his past as the animals he paints. “I’ve kind of stumbled upon this,” Gordon says of his wild subjects. “I just hope I’ve given them a voice that speaks to their power and beauty.” 

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