Below is a text on Adam Bridgland that I wrote in Summer 2011 for the catalogue of the Munsterland biennial festival in Germany, at which he was representing Great Britain:
Adam Bridgland’s practice encompasses a variety of media, from textile patches and printmaking to painting, photography and sculpture. While he started his career solely as a printmaker, he has recently been commissioned to create public pieces that vary from large-scale sculptural installations to painted murals incorporating an interactive, workshop-style process that redefines their finished appearance.
Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2006, Bridgland has used this diverse range of materials and working methods to pursue an incisive and often witty exploration of distinctively British sentiments, externalising the underlying sense of loss and nostalgia that permeates our memories. Vignettes of British back-packer’s holidays, old-fashioned bus-tours, and childhood seaside breaks that figure strongly in his visual repertoire are often tinged with this feeling of time having passed too quickly, our memories gradually fading. Twinned with this however, is an upbeat celebration of themes distilled from children’s colouring books, paint-by-numbers kits, old public transport posters and kitsch postcards, which he imbues with the kaleidoscopic richness of carefully chosen and thickly applied primary colours. These everyday, almost mundane subjects are treated with the importance and status of emblems; centred in each work and often encapsulated within related text or target-like circular borders that focus our gaze.
Key to the artist’s visual language is his incorporation of phrases that are optimistic about the strength of emotional bonds. For example, “I know you will take care of all the little things”, printed alongside the black vignette of a sailing ship, perfectly encapsulates the idea of companionship, of our appreciation and trust for what we leave behind and might return to. But while we may be consoled by this vindication of purpose and responsibility, our companion’s ship is nevertheless sailing away in search of new waters.
The tension between an act of leaving and the people and experiences that are left behind is particularly visible in his choice of imagery. Not only ships, but lighthouses, anchors, and birds in flight are all recurring themes; emblems of adventure and of our emotional approach to farewells. The silhouetted lighthouses and anchors that the artist uses for their allusions to weight and immovability – safety in a storm – are nevertheless historic aspects of society’s attempts to explore even the most dangerous parts of the world. Their ability to represent safety and danger simultaneously becomes tied to what Bridgland sees as the delicate volatility of relationships; whether between people, or towards specific places, events, and memories of moments passed.
His use of birds runs in a similar vein; they are icons both of optimism and of transience. A recent work depicting swallows darting across the surface of the paper are a profound example of this idea of flux. Blocked out graphically in black with red flashes to their heads, these birds are caught only fleetingly, beside the work’s seasonal proclamation ‘And then summer comes’; the image implicit with the understanding that they will leave as quickly as they arrive.
Bridgland also incorporates more humble images – a quaint English cottage, a makeshift tent, or a child’s watercolour set – that he sees as having a certain romantic stoicism about them. They are often paired with cinematic and melancholy reminiscences such as “And play those same sad notes on the piano” that allude to our attempts to fix cherished memories and give them a kind of tangible form. That we might have pounced upon a family moment, or spent hours bewitched by a sunset witnessed with a lover, are experiences that Bridgland explores in depth. Dreamy visions of a rose-tinted sky and the glistening of sunlight on water are caught in their fullest bloom in the primary colours and outlined forms present in works such as ‘Our Thames Sunset’. In this case a bold and vividly coloured paint set is encircled by a phrase of personal possession ‘our Thames sunset, caught in a watercolour wash’. The cameo-like exaltation of such a scene is an attempt to anchor a shared experience.
Whether descriptive of change or constancy, Bridgland’s work keys into our desire to remember and relive, and plays upon our tendency to elevate our shared memories with the rose-tinted, wistful spectacles we don when thinking of the past, as well as the future. His depictions of identity and belonging, nostalgia and emotion give to his work a hugely personal aspect, and are influenced by a graphic and visual tradition that is quite specific to Britain. Yet his subtle combinations of image and related text play on everyone’s perceptions of shared occasions. Perhaps then it is the delicately précised power of the experiences he attempts to capture that make Bridgland’s work so accessible to all.
Matthew Reeves, June 2011