Stephen Bradbury was born in Manchester, England in 1954. His early childhood was spent in Ardwick, Manchester before moving to Marple in Cheshire. He took a foundation course in art at Bolton College of Art, before moving on to do a degree course in Textile design at Loughborough College of Art.
After leaving college, he moved back to the northwest of England and lived in the High Peak area of Derbyshire. Married, with three children, he now lives in Cornwall. Click here - Stephen Bradbury homepage
In 1982 he illustrated his first book cover commission, The Many Coloured Land, by Julian May,for Pan Books, and went on to illustrate over 300 book covers and became well known as an illustrator.
Other well known authors he illustrated covers for include, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Arthur C Clarke, Alan Dean Foster, Sheri S Tepper, Rosamunde Pilcher, Joanna Trollope and Gene Wolfe. For over twenty years he worked in illustration and design, and his work became known world wide. Click here to go to FANTASY ART page and images
In 1996 Paper Tiger books produced a book about the life and work of the artist, Reflections - The Art of Stephen Bradbury.
It featured over 150 examples of the artist's book cover illustrations, plus examples of the artist's private work.
Examples of his popular Garden Series paintings were also included in the book. An example of this style was used on The Ice House by Minette Walters, Pan Books. Other popular images from this series included The Dodos lead the Way and The Ploughhorse's Dream.
At the height of his popularity as an illustrator, Stephen Bradbury decided to give up illustration and become a painter.
In art it had been done before, American artist, Willem de Kooning had made the break from being a commercial artist to becoming one of the greatest fine art painters of the 20th Century... de Kooning always looked back with appreciation to the secure work practises and grounding his early career had given him.
Tired of being commissioned, he made a conscious decision to paint pictures which had meaning, came from within and reflected his inner spirituality.
As a stepping stone, he decided to do a degree in The History of Modern Art at Falmouth College of Art. Having been a lecturer at this college, it was strange experience to go back as a student. Immersing himself full time in the subject for three years expanded the knowledge he already had for the subject, but also gave him the freedom to expand his own art.
During this time he conceived the Facets project. After many years of using gouache in his professional work, he now turned to painting in oils on canvas. and as the series progressed, the paintings got bigger and bigger. The first paintings in the series Facet 1 - Orange, Facet 2 - Jug, etc, took as their source, objects within the near locality of his studio space and the landscape, sea, cliffs of the Lizard Peninsula in which he lived, plus elements of his own inner self. As the series of paintings progressed, he started looking at his own life and the lives of other people and started to create a language in shapes, colour and elements of abstraction and figurative signifiers within the works. It soon became an observation on what it was like to become middle aged. Observing people, men and women entangled sometimes in life situations, relationships, jobs, health problems, sexual undercurrents and the inner search for spirituality and satisfaction in life.
As the paintings took on more and more meaning, the landscape elements started to diminish, often leaving just a line to represent the horizon. A huge signifier, he believes in people's lives, whether they live in Cornwall, New York , London or Paris. To see the horizon in one's life and what is beyond it is essential to people's lives, and not to feel closed in, undervalued, or diminished in any way.
Within the Facet paintings lie clues to the artist's belief in the solution to many of the problems we face, some thrust upon us and some self made. Wherein, he believes, as a Christian,that, the answer lies with God,
through Jesus, and, if any man or woman, would only take that step of faith and ask Jesus to come in to their hearts and lives and allow Him to guide them in their everyday lives and situations, they would quickly find an inner peace and the assurance of not being alone in the World and also, have the confidence to hand their problems and difficulties over to Him.
Another key element in his work over recent years is the value of sketching, and life drawing especially has become a serious part of his working practise. The keen observation, decision making and skill to observe and draw life models gives an extra reality to the figures portrayed in his art. The women in his paintings are real, they bear the stretch marks of child bearing and a beautiful maturity in their presence and bearing.
The History of Art , classical and modern is full of men and women's struggle to balance earning a living and being free to create works of art. The struggles they faced, the battles they won against the establishment and the artistic prejudices of their time, their personal lives and intrigues and twists and turns in their private life make the paintings and sculpture they produced so wonderful and relevant to us. Looking at the works of art before us, we sometimes forget the heart searching and heart break that went into producing those pieces.
Elements of that struggle can be seen in Stephen Bradbury's recent work, but there is also a celebration of life, a belief in a higher power. A strong belief that we are just visiting this planet. That shaft of light in the distance. A hint of godliness, if we look for it.
On a recent trip to Manchester, to the place he grew up, to unfortunately and sadly visit and help his father, who now, like many elderly people, suffers from dementia and is in a care home, he visited Manchester Art Gallery, to specifically look at the gallery's wonderful collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and to especially see Sir John Everett Millais' painting Autumn Leaves (1856). As a young art student he would travel from his home in Cheshire to Manchester, then cross town to catch the train from Victoria Station to Bolton. On route he would often pop into Manchester Art Gallery and look at this painting. It and the other works on display would come to influence his work in illustration years later. But today looking at that painting and Picasso's painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), he sees similarities, in that the women in both paintings staring out at us faced the same pressures and problems in life. The women in his own paintings share this similarity too. More in tune, these days with Picasso, Francis Bacon, Rothko, de Kooning, Matisse, Kapoor and Henry Moore, Millais' painting still holds a huge presence in the artist's psyche.
The career and life of Stephen Bradbury has had it's ups and downs. Recently described as a recluse, the truth is in fact that to produce the volume and quality of the paintings shown here, the artist has had to take time out from being in the public eye and quietly, almost secretly, work towards the day when as a whole, they would be presented to the World. Sitting on this project, till now has been hard but ultimately rewarding as it now all comes together. But even as this volume of work is being presented, Stephen Bradbury is working on his next project Voids, a preview of which is shown on this site. Click here to go to VOIDS page
Unfortunately, more trips to Manchester, due to his father's ill health are on the agenda in the near future, to the place where he was born and brought up. His journey, from there, in life and career, to where he now lives and paints has been a fascinating one. There is a lot more to it than this short biography, but through it all he is grateful to God for the special gift he has been given and chances like this to present his work.