Janaya Bradley is a self-taught visual artist, “sometimes” creative writer, model and full-time ‘bad bitch’
Words and Photos by Carmen Macri
“I went to school for creative writing, which is why I’m a ‘sometimes writer,’ “but school beat the passion for writing out of my body,” Bradley recalled. “But I still wanted to be creative, so I decided to change mediums.”
Choosing that path turned out to be one of the best decisions she ever made, and it brought positive impacts to both her own life journey and the lively city of Jacksonville. With her art, Bradley manages to capture all the different emotions that young black women experience in this complex world. And what’s interesting is that each piece of art can be seen in its own special way, and that perception changes based on how the viewer is feeling at the moment they look at it.
There is one piece, in particular — “The Horizon” —Bradley brought with her to our impromptu gallery viewing at Icecapade Frozen Treats in Springfield. She painted the piece amidst a breakup and her initial interpretation of the painting, a woman walking into the ocean with her hand held out while the sun is setting in the background, represents the act of letting someone go and moving on. Her hand extends, a silent farewell, while the sun gracefully sets on this distinct chapter of her story. Though, for other viewers, Bradley recalls her friends saying they view the piece as the woman calling for someone to follow into the sunrise. New beginnings.
“I know what I wanted to convey, but I really wanted it to be ambiguous for the viewer. And it really is like an introspection of ‘do you have a glass half full or a glass half empty mentality?’” Bradley explained. “Because the girl has her hand out and she’s going toward the ocean, the sun is either going down or is it coming up? People that have seen the piece have interpreted it as her asking you to come with her.”
Bradley has been professionally painting since 2015, but she recalls a certain Blues Clues coloring book she was once given as a young girl that sparked her initial interest in art. During her childhood, art served as a pastime. However, as Bradley matured, her paintings transformed into a therapeutic outlet, becoming a means to heal from life’s adversities and emotional wounds. Bradley portrays in her work what it’s like to grow up a Black woman in our society. She includes recurring themes of “Blackness, societal commentary, social identity and self-esteem.”
“It’s just inherent. I’m not even conscious of it. I’m not like, I need to paint this today. Life happens, I go through a breakup, I go through something, and then I’m like, OK, I need to convey this,” Bradley shared. “And I guess I know that I’m finished when I feel like I’ve conveyed what I wanted to convey with that piece.”
And while she intends to sell her work, she explains needing time with her art to experience, appreciate and mourn the paintings before she sends them off. As each painting signifies an important chapter of her life, saying goodbye to those paintings is like closing the book and beginning anew.
Much like any artist, Bradley has had to overcome roadblocks along the way. She mentioned having dozens of paintings that remain unfinished from the beginning of her career.
“I have a lot of pieces that are not done from when I first started because I get frustrated with myself,” she explained. “Because I’m like, ‘I should be better than this,’ and I just abandon it and then start something else.”
Bradley often shares that her motivation to complete ongoing projects stems from her newfound professional footing in the art world, where meeting deadlines is paramount. This journey has compelled her to navigate artistic hurdles and creatively troubleshoot when faced with mental blocks.
“I’ve had at least one or two art shows a month, and I always want to bring something new. I don’t want to bring the same things over and over,” Bradley explained. “So actually having this [deadline] is something I didn’t know about myself until it started happening. I need to have a painting done by so-and-so day, so I just have to keep outputting things, and it really helped. I have become more time efficient.”
Something important to note, and previously mentioned: Bradley is self-taught. When it comes to her paintings, she hasn’t received any formal “classical” training. Crafting her distinctive style was a journey solely defined by trial and error. This path did lead to moments of insecurity for Bradley when she embarked on her career. In encounters with fellow local artists, she occasionally felt inadequate due to her lack of art education or formal training. However, these feelings didn’t dampen her spirits for long. She came to recognize that her current position was precisely where she belonged, regardless of where her artistic journey began.
“I felt some type of way about that, like, I’m nothing compared to, you know, people that went to SCAD or went to a classically trained art school, I kind of felt intimidated by that,” Bradley shared. “But having people of all ages, shapes, colors and sizes approaching me and identifying with my work has really been an encouragement.”
Although she had some initial doubts, Bradley has seamlessly integrated herself into Jacksonville’s art community. With numerous events scheduled each month and even a mini gallery in Icecapades, she has left no doubt that she’s a permanent fixture.
And we couldn’t be happier.
If you are interested in her work, check out her Instagram @ bradleyjanaya.