JACKSON, Wyo. — A famous art professor once opined: A painting should either be edifying or entertaining. Bradford Overton defies that dichotomy by shooting for both—intention writ large in his exhibition of new work at Altamira Fine Art.
“I want my work to be funny but I also want them to feel as though you are looking at a haiku—a humorous haiku,” he says. “I want to find balance, minimalism and grace in the piece, but the gestalt needs to be edifying. I want the work to achieve aesthetic harmony, but also contain something charming. It’s akin to the kind of person you want to be or meet. Someone can be put together but have no sense of humor. My favorite kind of art and people are both.”
This melding of personality and practice has been a throughline in Overton’s oeuvre: his trickster vibe mirrors his playful approach in the studio. “My paintings crack me up,” he says. “They make me happy. I amuse myself in the studio, and then I technically execute the playfulness I see in front of me.”
Discovery underpins every painting, in process and in presentation. An example of this goes back several years when a work in progress needed something. Overton blocked out the top half with paper clouds—a surprisingly effective addition. “I realized the paper did exactly what I was trying to accomplish where the surface of the painting becomes a trompe l’oeil élément, where there are simultaneously two-dimensional and three-dimensional aspects.”
“The paper storms pull the viewer into the process. Oftentimes, they try and look behind the paper, assuming it’s really taped on there. They get to make that discovery the way I initially made it. They see what I saw when I finally knew the composition was right.”
Now, painted-paper thunderstorms crown most of his canvases, providing a fictional context for the vintage toys he casts as characters. An artist friend describes his work as “illusionistic,” a term Overton embraces for its wonder-rich associations. He considers his approach analogous to a kid playing with toys and crafts—following his imagination, harnessing drama.
“I’m not representing an actual, literal storm, but rather the idea of a storm that you experience as a child, the way the sky suddenly changes with lighting, thunder and rain, the way your perspective shifts. I want my paintings to play in the mind of an adult viewer who is still that kid, now looking through romantic, rose-colored glasses on such moments.”