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Bradford Edwards displays a large series of multi-media portraits of Zippo lighters that were etched with images and sayings by soldiers during the Vietnam War. A broad range of techniques and materials were used in constructing the work (lacquer on wood, mother-of-pearl shell and silver leaf on wood, stone carvings, metal etchings, graphite drawings and photo-based pieces).
Bradford Edwards, 45, the middle son of a Marine Corps Colonel, was raised on numerous military bases throughout the U.S. During the 80's he completed his education in England (Sussex University) and then split his time between Western Europe and Santa Barbara, California (where he first moved to, from the East Coast, in 1974). Since 1992 he has been spending half of each year in SE Asia, primarily Vietnam, making artwork and exhibiting in Saigon, Hanoi and Hue, as well as in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The artist always works under the following conditions: all his artwork is topically about the country where he makes it, he uses only immediately available materials, often collaborates with local artisans and he exhibits the completed work inside the country where it was made.
Edwards' work is usually focused on social and political concerns; sometimes dealing with more current issues (i.e. the effects of capitalism and foreign culture on the society, institutional corruption) while at other times concentrating on historical issues (i.e. colonialism, past conflicts). For example, the Vietnam War, not surprisingly, has been a central theme (his father was a jet and helicopter pilot during two tours of duty in 1966 and 1969). The influence of the French and Chinese in Vietnamese culture can also be seen as a source of interest in his artwork.
Because Vietnam has only recently opened its borders to the international community (officially since 1986 with the implementation of "Doi Moi", the open-door policy) people have had little exposure to the last several decades of contemporary art. Edwards' artwork, full of symbolic references to political and social topics, is often misread and confusing to the cultural authorities in Vietnam. As a result, his artwork has been removed from gallery walls, exhibitions have been delayed or canceled, a book about his artwork (the Vietnam Zippo series) was destroyed by government censors and he has been detained and threatened with deportation.
Since Edwards' art was never interpreted as "anti-Vietnamese" in any way, though often touching on controversial subjects, he has been allowed to continue making and exhibiting work there.
While Vietnamese propaganda art was, and still is, ubiquitous and highly developed, the "fine art" of Vietnam overwhelmingly depicts romantic and traditional scenes reflecting an idealized version of the country's history.
"89 Portraits of Vietnam Zippos", at Pacific Bridge, is the artist's first show in the US for many years, after nearly a decade of activity in SE Asia. Edwards had many group and solo exhibitions in California before splitting his time, in effect - commuting, between this country and SE Asia. This is an ideal exhibition to mount in California because the subject matter, Zippo lighters that reflect the nature of the conflict between the two countries, has equal relevance for both America and Vietnam.
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