We the People

MARK BRADFORD

‘We The People’ (2017) is a site-specific painting by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford created for the new U.S. Embassy building in London. The painting, which is comprised of 32 ten-foot square panels and took a year to complete, occupies the entirety of the Embassy’s atrium. ‘We The People’ depicts fragments and full articles from the U.S. Constitution, a text that the artist has integrated into his works since 2013. The upper left corner of this monumental painting begins with the Preamble to the Constitution, which states where political power resides: the People. Taken as a whole, the panels recreate the introduction of this document rendered in Bradford’s abstract visual language.

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‘We The People’ is a continuation of the themes Bradford has explored throughout his entire career, directing our attention to the distribution and representation of power within societal structures. In this work, Bradford wills the viewer to the Constitution’s point of inception, emphasizing the contingency of language’s meaning. Reflecting on the process of making this painting, Bradford tells: ‘When the Constitution was first written, women were in some ways property of the landed gentry. And certainly African American women and African American people were property. Clear property. But the people pushed back and we amended that. And even though progress is slow and we can’t see it day to day, things change.’ Bradford’s interrogation of the founding principles of democracy presents the viewer an opportunity to consider the meaning of these centuries-old words and how they apply today. Ripped, scraped, and exposed, text is legible in varying degrees, an effect that forces the viewer to reckon with the words on the canvas. In this way, Bradford gives interpretive control over this primary text back to the spectator, proving it is a living document.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble United States Constitution
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About the artwork

Transcript

‘We The People’ (2017) is a site-specific painting by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford created for
the new U.S. Embassy building in London. The painting, which is comprised of 32 ten-foot square
panels and took a year to complete, occupies the entirety of the Embassy’s atrium. ‘We The
People’ depicts fragments and full articles from the U.S. Constitution, a text that the artist has
integrated into his works since 2013. The upper left corner of this monumental painting begins
with the Preamble to the Constitution, which states where political power resides: the People.
Taken as a whole, the panels recreate the introduction of this document rendered in Bradford’s
abstract visual language.

‘We The People’ is a continuation of the themes Bradford has explored throughout his entire
career, directing our attention to the distribution and representation of power within societal
structures. In this work, Bradford wills the viewer to the Constitution’s point of inception,
emphasizing the contingency of language’s meaning. Reflecting on the process of making this
painting, Bradford tells: ‘When the Constitution was first written, women were in some ways
property of the landed gentry. And certainly African American women and African American
people were property. Clear property. But the people pushed back and we amended that. And
even though progress is slow and we can’t see it day to day, things change.’
Bradford’s interrogation of the founding principles of democracy presents the viewer an
opportunity to consider the meaning of these centuries-old words and how they apply today.
Ripped, scraped, and exposed, text is legible in varying degrees, an effect that forces the viewer
to reckon with the words on the canvas. In this way, Bradford gives interpretive control over this
primary text back to the spectator, proving it is a living document.