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Bradley Hankey

Shadows of Paradise

My work begins as an emotional response to my environment. I see imagery in the world around me that compels me to paint. The painting process is my way of expressing the beauty that I see every day.

I capture these images with my phone. Photography is akin to sketching for me, as I'm able to quickly reference moments that might become paintings. Back in my studio, I prepare wood panels for painting, and produce a drawing on the panel using the reference image. The paintings come together over time, with each painting consisting of many layers. The bottom layers often contain thick, opaque applications of paint, with the final layers being thin, transparent glazes. I spend a lot of time mixing paint, as color is one of the most important parts of my work. I use color to convey the emotions I felt when I saw the image, and the passion I feel when I paint.

I have been thinking of this body of work for many years, and the images have been compiled over time. The title of this body of work, "Shadows of Paradise," loosely refers to Plato's "Allegory of the Cave."

In the allegory, there is a group of prisoners who have lived in a cave their entire lives. They are bound with chains, so that they can only see a blank wall directly in front of them. Behind the prisoners, and out of their view, a fire burns, and people walk past the fire carrying objects that project shadows onto the wall. The prisoners see the different shapes, and delight in their knowledge of the forms, thinking the shadows are real objects. Eventually, a prisoner breaks free, and makes his way outside the cave. At first, he is blinded by the sun, but his eyes eventually adjust, and he learns that the forms from the cave are mere representations of actual objects. They are only shadows. Excited to share his newfound knowledge, he returns to the cave, but he is blinded again, this time by the darkness. The prisoners think the outside world has harmed him, and they disregard his words, happy to remain in the cave.

I feel like the prisoner who escaped in the allegory. Take my hand as we exit the cave. I want to show you the truth that lies behind the shadows.

Bradley Hankey
September 2017


California Now

Bradley Hankey is a master at painting skies. As an artist, he has the rare ability to turn pigment into light. His canvases become luminous fields that glow with a vibrant energy. They pulse and move, as if they were alive. Each of the paintings captures a different type of light and was inspired by a specific sky, seen at a unique time and place. In Hankey's hands, they become universal symbols of transcendent tranquility.

Skies are the dominant feature in these paintings, but they are not the only elements. He also includes parts of the surrounding landscape—buildings, street lights, palm trees. His settings remind us that what he paints is quintessential Los Angeles. The blend of open space, with just hints of our urban environment, add charm. They tell us that these are our landscapes, parts of our everyday lives.

These paintings reflect Hankey's love affair with Southern California. A native of Oregon, he grew up under the dark, gray skies of the Pacific Northwest. After attending art school at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, he moved to the west coast and settled in Los Angeles. His deep affection for his adopted home is recorded in his art. Each work began as a photo he took with his smart phone. Although each image began with something seen at a particular moment, he transforms his source into something timeless.

Hankey's paintings are the result of a laborious process, where he builds up color, one layer at a time. His underpainting begins flat and uniform. With each successive step, he adds thin, transparent layers of paint, applied in an array of techniques. In the end, the multiple layers fuse optically to create a luminous field. The final image has a gently shimmering quality that must be seen in person to be fully appreciated. His paintings are pure visual poetry.

This is Bradley Hankey’s third one-person exhibition at Skidmore Contemporary Art.


I see potential paintings every day. I could never paint all of them in my lifetime. My paintings are my way of trying to make sense of the world around me—more specifically, Los Angeles and California. I moved to Los Angeles in 2009, and have been painting images of California since then. There is so much beauty here that I am convinced I will have subject matter for the rest of my life.

My paintings begin as photographs taken with my smartphone—my way of quickly referencing the beautiful moments I see every day. I review my many images to determine which ones will become paintings. The images that become paintings are often places I see regularly—the silhouette of palm trees from the freeway; the downtown skyline; the mountains and the ocean. Sometimes I see something so intensely gorgeous that I immediately know I have to paint it—the sunrise reflecting on the wing of a plane; the city lights from a downtown bar; a piece of plastic shining in the sun. My work references themes of nature and man.

While subject matter is an important part of my work, the painting process is, for me, ultimately about color. Color is one of my great passions in life and fuels my practice. Much time is spent mixing paint, and every color I choose is deliberate. I often contrast flat planes of color with more complicated, mixed colors, and frequently employ glazing—thin, transparent layers of paint that optically blend to form a unique color with light and depth.

In my work I see memories of places I have been. However, my work isn’t about me—it is about California, which belongs to none of us and all of us. This Golden State has captivated the imagination of generations of artists, and maintains a mysterious allure around the world. This place where I live continues to provide me with unlimited inspiration.

Bradley Hankey
September 2015