The architecture of mind and body

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BOZEMAN – On the morning of Jan. 24, glass artist Tad Bradley was serene despite the imminent arrival of 15 Lone Peak High School students, and the disruption they would likely bring to the calm order of his industrial North Bozeman studio.

Not only does Bradley open his studio doors to Arts Council of Big Sky’s ARTventure students each year, he also regularly leads workshops for children and adults, and has long taught architecture at Montana State University.

The value of teaching and mentoring holds personal significance for Bradley that stems from his own difficult childhood. From age 15, until he was 21, Bradley was a ward of New York state for juvenile delinquency, bouncing between foster care, group rehabilitation homes and juvenile detention centers.

“There were some really special people during that time of my life who helped me see what they saw in me, and gave me hope I could make something of myself,” Bradley said.

He says he feels most connected to younger high school students because he finds that age group to be the most insecure and vulnerable.

“[As a mentor] you can either inspire them to have an incredible life, or intimidate them from wanting to learn,” he said.

After trying out three different colleges in search of a career fit, a counselor suggested Bradley look into architecture. Soon he was part of MSU’s five-year professional architecture program, where he would be one of 63 students out of 250 to graduate.

Bradley remembers the exact moment he decided to walk away from commercial architecture, which he practiced for half a decade in both Bozeman and Boston.

He was working on a house at the Yellowstone Club so large that it required a steel frame, including a ceiling beam he was instructed to conceal with a hollowed-out log.

“I couldn’t accept that a tree had lived on this planet for 250 years only to cover a steel beam,” he said, partially attributing his reaction to having grown up in the woodsy environs of the Adirondack Mountains.

Although Bradley’s focus is now fine art, his architectural background informs all of his work and how he approaches it. “In the same way a building needs columns to support the beams that support the roof—everything I do and think about has its foundation in architecture.”

Bradley’s glass art explores what it means to be human in both the psychological and physiological sense. “Spine and Vertebrae” is currently on display at Creighton Block Gallery in Big Sky. PHOTO BY TAD BRADLEY

Bradley’s kiln-formed glass art—complex configurations of glass fused into decorative panels and functional ware—is as diverse as the different techniques he is constantly experimenting with. The spectrum of his creations can be seen in the transparent, geometric panes that adorn the MSU parking garage, and the amorphous designs, some completely opaque, on display in his studio. He is currently working on a color-saturated series suggestive of works by the abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko.

Bradley’s experimentation is driven by a curiosity in process; and a search for answers to existential questions about what it means to be human, and finding ways to express that in glass.

“The older I get, the more I question existence and everything around us,” he said. “To reflect on who I was and who I am now … it’s an amazing transition, both psychologically and physically.”

His work has addressed both the mind and body components of what it means to be human. He did a series based on the Rorschach inkblot test to explore a memory of seeing a psychologist as a child. He delved into the physiology of the human body with a series he made after having an ultrasound performed on a varicose vein.

Intrigued by cellular structure and wanting to capture that in glass, he was also thinking about how he could turn his explorations into a teaching tool for his architecture students.

Bradley works in many mediums—he draws, works with wood and steel, and is a professional furniture maker—but it is glass’s versatility that keeps him captivated.

“Glass lends itself to so many different processes of exploring,” he said. “You can be very literal and make a hand or a shoe, or you can move into any realm of abstraction.”

Light is also a big factor in the medium’s allure. “It can look transparent or opaque, soft or hard, warm or cold … it takes on so many personalities. It can also be delicate and there is something really beautiful in fragility.”

Tad Bradley’s work can be found at Creighton Block Gallery in Big Sky, Old Main Gallery and Framing in Bozeman, and on the MSU campus in Gaines Hall, an outdoor location north of Danforth Chapel, and in the university parking garage. Visit tadbradleydesigns.com for more information.