It’s 10:46 pm in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan and a small crowd is forming outside the mixology bar Sanatorium. As if accosted by some rare and extraordinary happening, several pedestrians stop in their tracks and instinctively whip out their phones to Snapchat and Instagram the moment. The renowned mixologist and Sanatorium owner, Albert Trummer, stands off to the side taking in the growing spectacle with looks of both satisfaction and awe. An intrigued, but slightly bemused teenager walks up to the entranced throng and asks, “Who is that?” Without missing a beat, a college girl answers fervently, “That’s Bradley Theodore.”
Neither enthused, nor disturbed by the commotion, the artist continues his dance – pouring, dipping, thinking, painting, unfolding a vivacious skeletal mural from his spirit to his mind, through his brushes, and onto the brick canvas of Building 14 on the corner of Avenue C and 2nd Street. As the mural nears completion, Trummer paces the perimeter, feasting his eyes from different distances and angles before whispering, “Wow. He’s transformed the whole block.”
For Bradley Theodore Harvey, walking around New York City is like a trip to the local supermarket for most residents of Providenciales. You can barely make it 10 feet without running into someone you know – which is to be expected on an island of just 26,000 people, give or take. New York City, however, is not a small island supermarket. It’s one of the greatest cities in the world, and with 8.5 million residents, making a name for yourself within it is far from a cakewalk.
Still, the allure of puncturing its rich arteries, of unlocking the code to its armored vault of opportunity continues to attract young creatives each year by the thousands. From western Kentucky to Eastern Africa they come to New York with hopes unbridled. For Bradley Theodore Harvey, the island of Middle Caicos in the Turks and Caicos Islands is where his story begins.
“I was actually born in South Caicos,” the painter says, briskly walking down Rivington Street in the Lower East Side, hailing a taxi. He’s remarkably refreshed for having gotten home at nearly sunrise, painting before bed, and once again in the early morning. “That’s just Thursday in New York,” Bradley laughs, tickled by the suggestion that it was somehow a wild night. The discipline it takes to rise early and create, he attributes not to the city, but to his mother Joy Harvey and the upbringing she gave him as a Turks Islander.
“Conch Bar, Middle Caicos. That’s where my people are from,” Bradley says on the way to Hotel Chantelle for brunch. “We moved to Miami when I was six-months-old. Rough neighboorhood, you know? But I saw my mother work three jobs to raise 9 kids and that work ethic, focus, and energy just stuck with me.”
Throughout high school, graphic design and illustration piqued Bradley’s interest so he decided to study it in college. “I got a reputation for being a hard-core digital arts guy in the lab. Friends of mine put me on to side projects that eventually took me to New York – thanks brother,” he says to the cab driver before re-emerging into the sunshine.
The bouncer outside Hotel Chantelle greets him with the same warm familiarity as the wait staff at Harry Cipriani, the tattoo artists at Bang Bang, and the bartenders at Bleecker Heights Tavern in the West Village. Bradley walks past his Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid mural into the backdoor of the restaurant before continuing, “then Def Jam called.”
The legendary record label utilized his talents in one of the most defining eras of hip-hop music, culture, and fashion iconography. They called him ‘Digiman’, a tech wizard whose video graphics, 3D animation, and album art visually punctuated multi-platinum selling records and clothing lines like Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm. As a freelance consultant Bradley traveled the world, living in San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Paris at a time in his life when titans of the global fashion and music industries embraced him, but times change.
“The recession happened. Technology democratized digital art so more people starting doing it, fewer companies wanted to pay for it, and things just sort of…collapsed,” the artist explains, this time opening the door to an UBER that will drive him to the Dream Hotel.
Unemployed and soul searching, the Harvey from Middle Caicos returned home to the islands. “The year I started painting I came back to Turks and Caicos. I was rejuvenated and resolved to use all the skills I had learned throughout the years – to put all the history, culture, and inspiration I had soaked up into my art.”
Having worked and willed it into existence, in 2013 a mural appeared on Grand Street in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood that sent shockwaves up the spine of New York’s street art scene and high fashion establishment. The evocatively colorful skeletal depiction of a conversation between Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld instantaneously went viral. Bradley’s journey towards creating it, however, was anything but an overnight one.
“I locked myself away for a year, painting every day, reading, practicing, learning, and working to ensure that even though I come from a small country my work would compare to the best in the world.”
Pairing the tutelage of bygone masters he found in books, galleries and films with guidance from living greats like his mentor and friend Ray Smith, Harvey developed his own voice. Describing the idiosyncratic style he unleashed to widespread acclaim across cities like London, Paris, and Hong Kong, he says, “It’s a mixture of the colors of Turks and Caicos and the wildness of NYC.”
At 6ft, 2, the painter cuts an impressive figure swaggering through the lobby of the Dream hotel. A Mexican television star approaches him asking to touch his hair and their ensuing conversation leads to the hotel’s stunning installation of portraits. Shifting her gaze from Diane von Furstenberg to Naomi Campbell and Frida Kahlo, the actress says, “They remind me of Día de Muertos in Mexico.” Bradley agrees before revealing he’s actually the artist behind the array of famous faces. He elucidates the message behind his colorful skeletal style, explaining that it speaks not of death, but the spirit of life within all of us. His paintings viscerally communicate that beneath the glossy exteriors of even the rich, the talented, the famous, our unique experiences, choices, and desires are what speak to who we truly are as people.
From Marie Antoinette’s splendiferous ball to the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, Harvey’s work x-rays raw emotional energy in a way that exposes truth and vitality in all of his subjects.
A holler comes from down the street as Bradley heads home from the Dream. It’s his old roommate from a decade before gushing with salutations and congratulations a plenty. “Brad I’m out in LA and you’re big out there man, you’re big!” he bubbles, as if to say, “Wow… you really made it.”
Bradley breaks from the humble silence he often employs to update his friend on his latest developments.
In March, a short documentary about his life called ‘Becoming Bradley Theodore’ premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. At the launch, he unveiled a portrait of Robert De Niro that was given the nod of approval by the actor himself. His first solo show in London, ‘Son of the Soil’ at the Maddox Gallery in Mayfair received rave reviews before selling out completely on opening night.
As for later that evening, he’s scheduled to attend the birthday party of NBA star Carmelo Anthony to present him with a portrait of his son – the one he completed earlier that same morning. In a few days he’ll be off to Los Angeles, then back to London to close the exhibition, and finally, home to the Turks and Caicos for a while. He’s just painted his first mural in the islands, a portrait of the National Hero and former Chief Minister of the country, the Honourable James Alexander George Smith ‘JAGS’ McCartney. The first, he hopes, of many.
“I plan on doing major art projects in the Turks and Caicos,” Harvey says decidedly.
“Art is a part of culture. People travel to see statues, to see ruins, to absorb history. More than that, these are the things that reflect the soul of a people.”
With a whirlwind of global experiences behind him, Bradley Theodore Harvey, the man from Middle Caicos, is finding his way back home. With passion, focus, and determination to build a creative oasis the world will revere, time will tell what the visionary artist has in store for the islands he has always drawn from as a source.
(Photo Credits: Li Welch and Dominique Rolle/Caya Hico Media)