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South LA mixed-media artist wins MacArthur 'Genius' grant

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A mixed-media artist from South Los Angeles is one of two dozen MacArthur Foundation fellowship winners this year. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall says each one gets half a million dollars, no strings attached.

As a child, Mark Bradford didn’t think about becoming an artist – but he told an interviewer for New York Magazine that he always knew he wanted to make stuff. In a little more than a decade, the CalArts graduate has moved from styling hair in his mother’s beauty shop to creating works that hang in the galleries of leading contemporary art museums. His art combines painting, sculpture, photography, and the use of found objects – including old concert posters and hand-lettered ads from L.A.’s Leimert Park neighborhood where he lives.

Like the other 23 MacArthur Fellows, Bradford didn’t apply for the so-called “Genius Grant.” An anonymous board of nominators chooses standouts from several fields who demonstrate exceptional creativity and promise. The L.A. artist has regarded his earlier successes with a droll sense of humor. He’s said that when he tells people he’s a painter, they’re likely to respond, “Yes, we’d like this room in this color.”