George Seurat's idea of relaxing on a Sunday afternoon, "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" (1884), may look pretty crowded in this socially-distant world of ours. But it is one of the most reproduced works ever, each paying homage to Seurat's scene on the Seine.
But you may never have seen it quite the way artist Bradley Hart sees it.
His canvas is bubble wrap – pre-made pixels that allow him to immortalize Seurat's dizzying dots in plastic.
Popping bubble wrap is alarmingly addictive. But don't even think about popping it around the bubble wrap artist.
"I love bubble wrap," said Hart. "I love the sound of bubble wrap popping. I hate the sound of bubble wrap popping in my studio. It means that something's screwed up, or somebody's messing with my materials."
He spends weeks turning the ubiquitous packing material into art, from portraits of Albert Einstein and Biggie Smalls, to scenes of Wall Street and Central Park.
Hart said, "There's lots of colors that are beside each other, that when you step back, create a different color. I'm playing with the optics on how color resolves on your eyeball."
Bubble wrap has always been full of surprises. It was invented by two engineers back in 1957, originally to be sold as textured wallpaper. Mercifully, the wallpaper never caught on, but bubble wrap's cushioning capacity certainly did.
It even helped cushion a blow to Hart himself back in 2003 when he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
"It was really scary," he told correspondent Lee Cowan. "They said, 'There's no easy way to say this. You have MS.' And I thought my life was over."
For years he was reluctant to stick himself with needles as part of his treatment. But as his paintings became more popular, the bubbles seemed to speak to him. "I realized to myself, I'm going, 'Oh my God. How perverse is this? You wouldn't inject yourself for a decade, but you're sitting here with thousands of syringes in front of you, injecting paint into bubble wrap!'"
He works up close and personal – closer to his canvas than most are with a brush.
"When I first started doing it, I injected a couple bubbles, I stood back ten feet, I looked, I went, 'Oh yeah …' And I went back and injected a couple more. That's how I started."
"That must've taken forever," said Cowan.
"Forever! No, like, literally that is the correct word."
So, he developed a computer algorithm that allows him a bird's eye view of the bubbles while he's working in his own bubble.
Cowan asked, "Isn't it tedious?"
"Oh, it is. It's 100%. And people think I'm OCD. But I'm not."
What he is, is efficient. His process creates two paintings at once. Turns out, the drips from those syringes have a magic all their own. The dripping paint from the injected bubbles creates an impressionist work from the plastic sheeting that mirrors the pointillist bubble wrap painting.
Bradley Hart's work is a reminder perhaps in the midst of our pandemic that we each have to do our part for the betterment of the whole. "I joke to people that I live in a bubble," he said. "We choose who we let into our circle. We've all been forced now to create micro-bubbles. But guess what: All these little micro-bubbles come together, they make a beautiful painting."
Who would have thought bubble wrap's intended purpose has finally been realized? It did indeed grow up to be a wall covering after all.
For more info:
- Bradley Hart (Official site)
- Follow Bradley Hart on Instagram
- Bradley Hart (Anna Zorina Gallery)
- Sealed Air
Story produced by Julie Kracov and Aria Shavelson. Editor: George Pozderec.
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