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Adam Bradley is unexpectedly shy for a 25-year-old with a reputation in the D.C. gallery scene. “He is one of the hottest sculptors in the Washington art scene,” says regional art critic and curator F. Lennox Campello.

He is low-key and speaks softly when told of Campello’s comments; staring at the floor, he rejoins with a smile: “I don’t know what to say. It’s awfully nice of him.”

Part of his local acclaim comes because the public relates to his art. “We have had tremendous success selling his work,” says gallery owner Catriona Fraser, “and this is even before he has had a first solo show”—which opens this week at Fraser Gallery and runs to March 18. The show’s title, “Adam Bradley: Found Object Sculpture,” suggests the way he works, using the stuff that most of us consider junk and throw in the recycling bin. “I really like working with found materials,” Bradley says. “You find something and it’s got its own history.”

Bradley takes discarded pieces of metal, screws, spoons, tools, and fabric and intertwines them into a new entity. He creates small figures—between 17 inches and 3 feet high—that look as if their skin has fallen off, with exposed veins and muscles. “People say one of two things,” he says. “They either look robotic or they look like mummies.” His figures are usually engaged in theatrical poses that at times range from the delicate to the grotesque.

“I wanted to make something that was contemporary, that was about now,” Bradley explains. “It’s not about the tradition of figurative sculpture. I’m more concerned with bringing history into now. I try to bring back the gesture. So the found object is my way of making it mine. It’s more contemporary than cast bronze.”

As an undergraduate, he kept making drawings of isolated figures with minimal delineation of space until an instructor posed a question to him: “Can you make a figure and have the actual gallery space around it?” In his attempt to address the issue, he moved from painting to sculpture, and a whole body of work was born.

He is particularly fascinated by biblical stories of martyrs and saints. His favorite is that of St. Catherine. “They kept inventing these devices to torture her,” he says. “But they’d always break. It’s almost funny. They try to behead her, and the axe breaks and flies off into the crowd and kills people.”

Bradley is not impatient for success or for delving into the New York art world. He wants to nurture his art locally for the time being. “Someone said it’s better to work smart than work hard,” he remarks. “I work hard. I don’t work smart.”—Zoe Leoudaki