Webcor Designer Drawn to Artists Who Break New Ground

Black History Month Profile: Artist Mark Bradford Inspires Sr. Design Manager Ope Tani

February 9, 2024


by Ope Tani, Webcor Sr. Design Manager

My interest in architecture was piqued as a child growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, albeit for Naval Architecture, not the architecture or construction of buildings. As an 8-year-old, I had the opportunity to tour the living spaces of a visiting small ocean liner and was fascinated by everything I witnessed below deck.

The idea of pursuing a career in Architecture came as a fallback option while preparing college applications, as there were no schools offering Naval Architecture that my parents could afford. Studying Architecture at the University of Lagos and later at the University of Minnesota were great experiences for me. After grad school, I couldn't wait to get into the job market to "change the world."

I worked as a designer and architect mostly on mixed-use developments in the UK, Maryland/Virginia, and Northern California. I thoroughly enjoyed the planning phase of the design work, and it soon became my specialty. I later developed a keen interest in design-build roles, which became my discipline about 12 years ago.

I feel fortunate to have had prominent design roles on many landmark projects, although only a few were in California. Some of my concept sketches were developed into the street facades at Santana Row in San Jose.

As a designer, I have been drawn to the work of artists who present visuals in new and exciting ways. That theme resonates particularly well this year, with "African Americans and the Arts" as the theme for Black History Month 2024.

Mark Bradford's work, in particular, excites me. Bradford, 62, is an installation and conceptual artist currently working out of Los Angeles. Bradford's artistic work is presented in multiple mediums, including collaged paintings, videos, installations, and sculptures. He studied art at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, earning a BFA in 1995 and an MFA in 1997. Bradford's early years were spent working at his mother's hair salon, where he created signs for the salon and later worked as a hairdresser.

This influence can be seen in his early works, where he incorporated permanent-wave endpapers, foil, and dye as prevalent parts of his collages. Bradford expanded on his use of found materials as he developed his artistic style, incorporating everything from peeling movie posters to salvaged plywood into his layered, abstracted creations. The result is a combination of collage and paint. Bradford isn't afraid to tackle tough subject matter in his work. Most of his pieces deal with issues of race, gender, and class in American society.

Bradford's work has been exhibited at locations including the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. Other well-known works by Bradford include A Thousand Daddies, Across 110th Street, and Help Us.

Help Us is an especially poignant piece, for which Bradford created an installation on the roof of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh for the 2008 Carnegie International. The installation, inspired by the victims of Hurricane Katrina, can only be seen by aerial view; it spells out the words "HELP US." Bradford has won several awards for his work, including the Nancy Graves Foundation Grant in 2002, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award in 2003, the Bucksbaum Award in 2006, and the MacArthur Fellowship in 2009.

In March 2018, Helter Skelter I, a monumental painting, sold for $12 million, an artist record and the highest-ever auction price achieved by a living African-American artist. Bradford's work can be seen at the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. gallery in New York.

Bradford was the U.S. representative for the 2017 Venice Biennale. In 2021, he was included in Time Magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential People.