Sculpture art has long been part of Paige Bradley’s life. At just nine years old, she became fixated on a figurative bronze sculpture in an art gallery window and later dedicated her artistic skills towards working with the yellowish-brown metal. In her late teens, she finally got to experience this time-honored material and has never looked back. Over the past 25 years, she’s cast hundreds of pieces in bronze.
Two of Bradley’s most striking bronze sculptures are titled Illumination and Illumination, Half Life. Part of her Expansion series, these figures hold their arms open, facing the sky. Electricity pulses through them, its power so great that the light cracks their body open, to spectacular effect. “The figure represents the energy of our spirit within us,” she explains. “When we allow ourselves to live life to the fullest, and feel deeply alive, nothing can stop our momentum.”
We were honored to speak to Bradley about her life, the inspiration behind her work, and the gratitude she feels from being able to create art. Learn more by reading our exclusive interview, below.
Learn more about Paige Bradley's illuminated figurative bronze sculptures, below!
What lead you to work with bronze?
I clearly remember the day I was walking along a small street in Carmel, California, a renowned art community filled with art galleries, and I looked into the large picture window of a gallery and I saw a polished bronze sculpture of a female figure. I pressed my nine-year-old face to the glass window and stared for a long time. My mother, an elementary school teacher, knew immediately it was a passion, as I had been drawing people since I could hold a pencil. She immediately signed me up for professional art classes, but it wasn’t until I was 17, that I got my real first taste of bronze.
There was a local art foundry (what luck!) that ran a county-wide competition for high school students. We were to sculpt 1 lb. of wax into a sculpture and then a professional artist would select the top three sculptures to be cast into bronze. I don’t know who the artist was that selected me, but I feel that the owner of the foundry gave me a rare and singular gift. I have in turn made them my primary foundry in which I cast all my work, hundreds of pieces, over the last 25 years.
What keeps you interested in the material?
Bronze is unique. There is no other material I have found which is so soft, yet so strong. So lasting, and grows colorfully rich with age. It has an amazing history dating back to 2500 BCE. To be among the artists who work in bronze—becoming a brother and sister of many, among such an extended timeline—is truly profound. In the 20th century, we learned how to weld bronze. Now we can weld even the smallest pieces onto delicate details, and they stay rigid, is quite exciting.
Now I am trying new things, like embedding stainless steel pins to strengthen areas in order to defy gravity and catch moments that other materials cannot. I am hanging bronzes from ceilings, I am adding interior lights to cracked open sculptures (my trademark pieces), and I am marrying new materials with bronze, binding and integrating. We are painting bronze now, as well as traditional patinas with new chemicals. I sometimes feel like Leonardo da Vinci trying to push the barriers of the fresco (like his famed Last Supper did NOT last). It might not work, but if we don’t try, how will we know?
What was the inspiration for Illumination and Illumination, Half Life?
I had a trainer in my gym, and though we didn’t work together much, I saw there was something inside of him that drove him to a higher purpose. He loved his country, his family, and his mother more than anything. He loved God or a divine power, and he felt a duty through his physical body to be the best he could be and help others achieve similar goals. I wanted to capture that personality, that being, as it was so much more than physical. He had a light in his heart, an illumination in his soul. As he modeled for me, he would not rest, nor would he use supports. He kept his arms outstretched for unending amounts of time and I was in awe of his steadfastness and tenacity. Not only was he inspired within, he created inspiration in others. Illumination seemed the perfect title.
The streaks of light that pulse through your figures is spectacular. How did you construct these? Had you worked with electricity much before this?
This specific work I have created has called for electricity. It needs these streaks of electricity to communicate my message. So I had to find someone who understood my vision and could make this happen. Some of my works call for other things, and I research those as well. I find great artisans who know how to do incredible things using my parameters, visions, and limitations.
I also have learned to let go. I could not achieve all this by myself and my ego does not pretend it could be so. I have learned that the best results are found when a creative person can surround themselves with super detailed technicians who love solving impossible problems. And then we throw it all toward a furnace, melting metal at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, and pray that nature (and any fire gods) will see this through to an enlightened work. I hope my vision will be strong enough to persist through this uncontrollable chaos. Sometimes nature even adds a special something, and it becomes truly sublime and beyond my capacity. I just make stuff, and allow brilliance to happen when and where it is meant to happen.
How important is it for you to inspire others through your sculptures? What do you hope people take away from your work?
There is no greater gift an artist can receive than when someone feels something profound from what I have created. I have had people collect my sculptures that have lost spouses, children, parents, or even part of themselves. People also buy the works to remind them of a struggle they have had to overcome or an enlightenment they have had. Basically, people want to remember they are never alone on their journey.
When someone brings their own powerful story to Art, they become part of the art also. They find the meaning within, and the artwork becomes more powerful now that it is understood and felt so profoundly.
Still, I do the work for me, not for others, because then it would be fraudulent. Yet my Art is only as great as those who understand it and those who love it. This is the balance.