Local artist helps inspire new generations to invent their own artwork
You may have seen his work at the Art Car Festival, or maybe at a local hot spot. His pieces have been featured all over the world – and even in area yards. Mark Bradford, known as the “Scrap Daddy,” has been featured on the History Channel and Discovery Channel, on “Junkyard Wars” and “Monster Garage,” at Burning Man and in Germany and Japan. Infusing a unique, animal-like twist on metal sculpture, Bradford is able to bring his artwork to life.
With an architect father and an inventor great-grandfather, creating moving sculpture is in his blood. “I know that I’m supposed to use my hands and that you’re supposed to have fun at what you do – and I do,” he says. “I create something that’s not been done before.”
A self-taught mastermind, Bradford reveals that he started in ceramics, but quickly moved to welding. With a bit of community college, he learned how to use the equipment required for his discipline and went from there. Despite a hiatus in Costa Rica where he concentrated in cement structures, stained glass and stainless, he has spent the majority of his life here, growing up in West U and living and working in the heart of the city.
Although it appears at first like a metal graveyard, Bradford’s studio is more akin to a garden of discarded scrap. He tells of his knack for acquiring what others want to throw away, citing his acquisition of thousands of spoons from a local airline right before they threw out the old model utensils. Now armor for his creatures, the spoons have been transformed into art. Humbly pointing to his coconspirator Will Hill, Bradford credits his contemporary for his help with “electrical stuff.” Uncomfortable with attention, Bradford would rather talk about his friends and his art, than himself.
Locally and most visibly, Bradford has been involved with the Orange Show Foundation’s Art Car project for 20 years. With awe-inspiring designs like the mobile star car, a tarantula-like Rancha, two-story preying mantis and more, his art cars incorporate his love of metal and movement. He’s even sponsored children’s groups as they embark on forming their own art cars while always entering his own inventions. “If I was a 10-year-old and I saw shows like this, I would have started welding a lot sooner,” he says. “I owe [Art Car] so much because it’s such a great avenue for young artists to show their work.”
Though many know of his artwork, and many can pick it out from the rest of the scrap, some of his creations have a more practical purpose. Local Tex-Mex restaurant, Cyclone Anaya’s has tapped this inventor to boost its urban-chic décor. From doorknobs to the sign outside, both the Shepherd and Midtown locations have upped the adornment ante for the area restaurant scene.
Eager to help other young artists, Bradford welcomes class field trips to his gallery. Driving the cars for kids, showing them how the mechanics work, Bradford is happy to encourage and motivate these minds. “I tell them, ‘If you can’t weld right now, at least you can draw things out,'” he says. “When I was a kid, I did a lot of drawing, but I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
He has certainly “made it” in Houston and beyond. Almost a superhero to up-and-coming artists, Bradford enjoys being involved in the local art scene. “It’s always good to see other people working so hard,” he says. “I was inspired. I want to inspire people, too.” Mark Bradford’s gallery is open to the public and is located at 5020 Allen St.