From Pointillism to stippling, Ben Day to halftones, the compilation of dots to construct an image can be traced through myriad examples in art history. But what about the medium of bubble wrap? While most people see this material as nothing more than an amusing packaging cushion, East Village artist Bradley Hart views bubble wrap as a fresh canvas, waiting to be transformed into a brilliant mosaic composed of hundreds of paint droplets.
Using paint-filled syringes, Hart painstakingly injects multicolored acrylics into the plastic wrapping’s air bubbles. This technique allows him to create reimagined historic artworks such as Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” (1884–86), vivid landscapes, photorealistic renderings of celebrities, and self-portraits. The process can take anywhere from hours to weeks, given the meticulous nature of Hart’s practice: He preloads every syringe and numbers each individual bubble according to a corresponding chart. The final product is not one artwork, but several, as the dripping excess paint forms a hazier duplicate of the original.
“I started hyper-inflating the bubbles, so [the paint] leaked out, and I worked from the bottom to the top. So at the end of it, there’s a giant sheet of paint on the back of the plastic,” Hart told Hyperallergic. “I peel that sheet of paint off the back and that creates what I call the impression.”
Hart says he began experimenting with bubble wrap through sculpture around 2009, when he learned that it was initially invented in the late 1950s as a textured wallpaper. But it wasn’t until a couple of years later, around the same time that he began treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS), that he began his current practice. Initially diagnosed with the chronic illness in 2003, Hart says he was reluctant to inject himself with the treatment medication for more than a decade until an accident forced him to reconsider.
“The idea of injecting was in the back of my mind,” Hart said. “Needles and syringes were in the back of my head, and I had this ‘A-ha’ moment: I’m going to inject this bubble wrap.”
The use of bubble wrap also stems from Hart’s interest in sustainability. Aside from repurposing the packaging material, he has extended recycling to the rest of his art practice, reusing syringes and incorporating dried acrylics and discarded resin into new works, evidenced in his Casted Waste (2015) and Assemblages (2011–13) series. In his Jersey City studio, he even built a stool made entirely out of layered scrap paint, the final product a rainbow seat recalling sedimentary rock.
In the past several years, Hart’s MS has made it difficult to maintain his practice on his own. With the help of a mobility scooter and a personal assistant, he is able to continue his work. Currently, Hart says he is looking into a robotic arm, but recognizes that he will always need an extra set of hands to help with his projects. “I didn’t mind having people do things when I could do it; it’s more the idea of like, I want to be able to do it myself,” Hart said.
Indeed, although Hart’s MS has limited his mobility, it has in no way inhibited him from developing new artworks. He has also been toying with driving over the bubble-wrap works with his motorized scooter, creating what he dubs “artifacts.” Because for Hart, bursting one’s bubble can only lead to a new beginning.