Virginia Bradley is an established American artist who has received numerous accolades over her more than 30 year long career. We caught up with Virginia to hear about how this artist spends a typical day living in the rustic beauty of the Massachusetts Berkshires. From mornings spent over coffee and poetry with her husband to her custom-built studio, Bradley takes us for a walk through a day in her life.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I tend to wake up quite early around 5:00 am as the dawn chorus starts here in the Berkshires. I stay in bed and read until the sun is up, then go upstairs to make coffee and quietly sit in a bay window and observe the day start to unfold. We live in the country in a pastoral setting bordered by large pine trees with lots of wild life.
Then my husband (who is a painter and poet) and I have tea and coffee together and he reads to me. He usually reads poetry from the likes of Rumi or Mary Oliver. Right now, he is reading from Fierce Voices, an anthology of women’s poetry by Ana Sampson. We are also reading Daily Rituals, by Mason Curry. Daily Rituals documents the daily lives of all types of creative individuals from the 16th century to present day.
What inspires you to create every day?
The studio becomes a meditative space for me where the everyday details of life slowly evaporate and I start to respond to the transformation of materials which is the basis of my process. The studio is a laboratory for me to experiment with oil paint, color, form and sometimes other mixed media materials. I do not have a preconceived idea of what final form a painting will become.
Working in equilibrium with a painting and responding to the transformation of the materials is what inspires me to work. For me, painting is about continually arriving.
What does your work space look like?
When we decided to move to the Berkshires two years ago, the priority was to find a home where we could also build a studio. We ended up with a converted barn (originally built in 1894) on 3.5 acres. After moving, we immediately started making plans to build a studio, which was much more complicated (and expensive) than we had imagined. But a year later we had a completed 1800 sq. ft building with two private studios. My studio is 30’ x 40’ with high ceilings and French doors.
People often wonder how we decided to move to the Berkshires from Philadelphia. I was taking early retirement from my position as Professor of Art at the University of Delaware to focus on painting full time. We were tired of our busy urban schedules and wanted to live in the country. We knew several artists that lived in the Berkshires and they introduced us to the area.
Describe the core of your technique or style.
Until recently I was a mix-media painter utilizing appropriated material often based on animal imagery. Abstraction was a key component of these works. In 2015, I decided to remove the figurative element of the work and focus solely on abstraction.
The physical activity of pouring paint, adding and subtracting into the surface, sanding and then editing the image by hand are the basic ingredients of my process. Often these processes are repeated, but not in any specific order. The works are multi-layered. Sometimes the works evolve to a finished state in five or six layers, other times they may have fifty layers. I work on three or four paintings simultaneously. This allows me to spend time on one painting and then moved to another painting as a layer dries. Right now, I have been working on four paintings 40” x 36” for the last month, they are still in process.
The rich landscape and light of the Berkshires is definitely influencing my current series “Landing”.
What are your top 3 studio essentials?
1. Kiki, my Cairn Terrier.
2. Gerhard Richter’s “The Daily Practice of Painting”.
3. Music – I use Spotify and headphones. I listen to all different kinds of genre depending on what my energy or mood requires.
How do you know or decide when an artwork is finished?
Well, if you have to ask yourself if it’s finished – it’s not. Intuitively, I believe one knows if a work is totally satisfying and finished. But with that said, painting is the hardest thing I could choose to do. But the struggle that sometimes occurs is what makes the process worthwhile. When one has been desperately trying to resolve a painting and wants it to be “finished”, it is the time to put the work aside and return later. Agnes Martin compares the painting process to “Slaying the Dragon”.
Painting full time and not working in academia is allowing me to relax into the process and not rush a painting. I’m always striving for the painting to reach a higher level of physically and contemplation.
What do you like to do to unwind after a day’s work?
At some point during my day I usually swim at a local college. Gardening, reading, cooking and movies take up the rest of my time. Then there are the logistics of just living every day that take time…
What’s your overall favorite aspect of the creative process?
Transformation of materials in the studio.