Russell Tovey and Katherine Bradford: Beautiful and Universal Images

“It’s a suite of queer artists, so it’s about pride and representation, but it’s also about the universality of what it means to be alive.” —Russell Tovey

In celebration of Pride Month, Absolut Art is thrilled to collaborate with acclaimed actor, art collector, Talk Art podcaster, and author Russell Tovey on a curation of signed, limited edition prints. Whether showing figures in pairs, in groups, or solitary, all the works in this suite focus on the human figure in all its expressive possibilities.

Tovey recruited a multigenerational and international quintet of LGBTQ+ artists: Pol Anglada, Katherine Bradford, Kyle Coniglio, Sola Olulode, and Joy Yamusangie. Some renowned and some up-and-coming, these artists have shown their work at museums from New York’s MoMA PS1 to London’s Victoria & Albert, and have earned fellowships from organizations like the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Academy in Rome.

In honor of the curation, Absolut Art will donate 20% of the proceeds to akt, a charity supporting LGBTQ+ youth facing or experiencing homelessness in the UK, continuing The Absolut Company’s 40-year history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

Absolut Art spoke with Tovey and Bradford about how these artists exemplify the diversity that Pride is all about; how Bradford, in her 70s, is having the time of her life as an artist; and about the contrast between what famed writer Armistead Maupin called our biological families and our logical families, the ones we make for ourselves.

Russell, perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about how you arrived at this remarkable group of artists?

Russell Tovey: I created a suite of artists to celebrate Pride, in some cases introducing them to a new public, in other cases reintroducing them. It’s an exciting group of amazing talents whose works people are going to want to live with. They show incredible diversity and in that way celebrate what pride is all about. I approached it with the thought of just bringing together artists I love. I also brought together artists I’ve met and have a friendship with, and artists I collect, so I was thinking about this as a curator and a collector: what would I want to buy myself?

What I love about Absolut Art is that the works are affordable and you’re getting incredible works of art by artists with strong followings and curatorial support, so it felt great to bring them together in this suite.

Katherine, we could talk about your wonderful work in so many ways. Perhaps we could start by talking about your story briefly. You came to be an artist in a very particular way, not through going to art school, and a little later in life, and in the last few years, since your first show at [New York gallery] Canada, you’ve become so beloved in the art world.

Katherine Bradford: That story gets told a little different every time I tell it. I got seduced into being an artist when I was already married and had children. It was a pretty strong desire so I kept at it and now I’m in my 70s and I’m having the best time in my life, the most opportunities to show and travel and meet interesting people like Russell and Robert and be interviewed by them. Life is good.

Katherine Bradford, Stripe People, 2020

You’ve said it was actually harder for you to come out as an artist, because your family didn’t support your dreams, and you literally once climbed out a window to escape an event supporting your husband, who was a politician, in order to get to the studio.

KB: I had forgotten that I had climbed out that window, but my ex-husband told that story to my children and it started circulating again. People seem to like that story. Better than staying in the closet, right?

Better out the window than in the closet! Katherine, perhaps you could tell us a bit about some projects and exhibitions, whether current or upcoming?

KB: I just had a lot of fun being in a show in London, at Campoli Presti gallery. It was very festive, because it was maybe the first time Londoners had gotten to go out and look at art. Everyone embraced the art as if they had never seen art in person. It was held in an old carriage house or something, with old tiles all over the walls, not a white cube gallery. I think a few people might have thought the setting competed with the art.

RT: What was your opinion?

KB: My work is very contemporary and the tiles were ancient, from a different culture and a different century, so the two together had a great conversation.

I also have a show coming up at Harvard University’s Carpenter Center for Visual Arts with a young artist named Diedrick Brackens. That will open in September.

RT: I can see you two in conversation! He uses really vibrant colors on fabric. The dynamic way the stories are being told is going to be brilliant! What a great pairing.

KB: I think so too, and the fact that I’m a woman painter and he’s a male weaver is very interesting. Not to mention that we are more than a generation apart in age.

Katherine, since we’re here to celebrate Pride Month, does it make sense to talk about your work in a way that links directly to identity, or is that perhaps not the way you like to talk about your work?

KB: Identity conversations have been right in the forefront, and in the forefront of the art world certainly. I think at first I was a little shy about linking myself with the characters in my paintings. But now I feel more at ease doing that, and I see more connections. My last show in New York was called Mother Paintings. I didn’t want people to think I was putting myself, as a mother, into my paintings. It was more an archetype. But inevitably, viewers associated the people in the paintings with their mother, or with me talking about my experience, and maybe with a caregiving person, since we’re all going through a global pandemic.

Since Absolut Art is donating some of the proceeds of the sales of these works to akt, an LGBTQ+ homelessness charity, at your request, Russell, why don’t you say a few words about them?

RT: I’ve been a patron of the organization for five or six years now. They are really important for LGBTQ+ homeless youth. If they’ve been kicked out of their houses, they get them jobs and they support them. They’re an incredible resource. If you’re young and queer and your family are not accepting of you and you find yourself homeless, you have a lifeline. I was privileged that my family were very supportive, but if I’d been kicked out, to know there was a charity I could connect to, it would have settled my anxiety to some extent. So it’s important to me to make sure their work is known. It’s a great charity.

Leaping off from that nurturing figure in Katherine’s painting and the nurturing work that akt does, maybe we could conclude with a few words about community and support from families or origin or families of choice, who support us in being an artist or an actor or whatever we might want to be?

RT: Armistead Maupin put it very well. He said we have our biological family and then we have our logical family, that we make for ourselves. If you’re queer or in any minority, to have a network and safe spaces, and the opportunity to be yourself and tell your story, and accept yourself, and know what your past was and what your future is, is so vital. It’s so important to know that there are people who think the same way you think. It can be scary when you have these feelings and there aren’t people to support what you’re going through. And when you do find yourself it’s great to have loads of mates who are the same!

KB: I like what you said, Russell, because we’re learning that if we can find one or two other people who we can relate to and who understand us, it’s terribly important, that conversation. I’m very glad to be part of this enterprise. The print I donated is of two people, they’re striped, and the colors of their stripes go around the frame too. They’re holding hands. I haven’t indicated who they are or what gender they are, but they’re together and they’re supporting each other in some way.

RT: It’s a beautiful image. You can project the gender of the couple, who they are, why they’re together, but it’s a universal image, which is what this suite is about. It’s a suite of queer artists, so it’s about pride and representation, but it’s also about the universality of what it means to be alive, what it means to fall in love, what it means to be connected with people and have friends and dance and enjoy life!

These images are full of joy and love. They’re life-affirming and the artists are so full of life and inspiring for so many people. I feel incredibly proud to bring these artists together.

KB: I notice, Russell, that some are pretty erotic. Some real sexy-looking figures.

RT: Oh yeah!

KB: When I saw that my two people were just holding hands, I thought, that’s pretty tame!

RT: They might be holding hands before they’re about to do something or after something. You don’t know what’s just happened or what’s about to happen.

KB: Ah. The universal!