Bailey, Radcliffe 1968–
Radcliffe Bailey 1968–
The works of Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey have earned the young painter comparisons with other African-American artists, including Romare Bearden and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Bailey’s “uneven carpentry, smeared paint, and weathered objects function as window dressing for an examination of the environmental moorings that shape black culture,” wrote Anastasia Aukeman in ARTnews. Thousands see one of Bailey’s most arresting works when they pass through Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport, the second-busiest terminal in the world; it was hung in time for the 1996 Olympic Summer Games.
Few artists achieve such recognition and acclaim so early in their career, but critics have often remarked upon Bailey’s solid training in and incorporation of many European-based artistic traditions, such as the geometric forms of Russian constructivism, along with his ability to bring in subtle, but provoking ideas reflecting the African American experience to his art. “His stance makes it possible for many different kinds of people to relate to his work,” wrote Joe Lewis in Art in America.
Bailey was born in New Jersey in 1968. As a child, he spent time with his grandfather, a blacksmith. The birdhouses the two made together helped spark in Bailey both a love of creative work and an appreciation for everyday objects. Choosing to pursue art as a career, he attended the Atlanta College of Art, from which he received a B.F. A. in 1991. His first brush with celebrity, however, came as a result of his appearances in two 1992 video clips from the musical group Arrested Development; Bailey made cameos in songs for both “Mr. Wendal” and “Tennessee.” He also remained in the Atlanta area and began pursuing a career as serious painter.
Much of Bailey’s work begins with vintage sepia-tone photographs of African Americans from decades past; many of them were given to him by his grandmother. Bailey works them into mixed-media collages on wood or canvas that incorporate other found objects and thick bands of bright color—but the photos give a decidedly human dimension to his work. In the New Orleans publication Gambit Weekly, D. Eric Bookhardt wrote of their impact: “Formally posed and attired, they return our gaze with the impassive eyes of those who have seen much but are in no great rush to talk about it. Instead, it is their uncanny silence that speaks to us.”
Doors are also another symbolic object that appear frequently in Bailey’s works; sometimes he constructs a canvas to resemble an entire dwelling. His use of weatherbeaten wood reminds the viewer of sharecropper lean-tos in the Deep South and other ramshackle buildings. Critics have often commented upon Bailey’s adept evocation of the Old South in his art, his ability to effortlessly summon up the intergenerational character
At a Glance…
Born in 1968, in NJ. Education: Atlanta College of Art, B.F.A., 1991.
Career: Artist, 1991—.
Addresses: Home —Atlanta, GA. Gallery —David Beitzel Gallery, 102 Prince St., New York, NY 10012.
and mood of this region of the United States—“an ethos that includes superstition, racial turmoil, deterioration, and regeneration,” as Aukeman pointed out in ART-news. Upon his canvases Bailey has also sometimes laid tar (once a hate-crime ingredient) and cotton, the crop which depended on legalized slavery for its ability to turn a profit.
Bailey’s range of artistic materials echoes his African American heritage. The colors he uses are often bright and almost tropical in intensity. He also uses them in thick strokes, which in some cases appear as “ritualistic curved lines that recall the old wrought-iron grillwork found in Haiti and New Orleans,” wrote Bookhardt in Gambit Weekly. Often he brings nkisi, African votive figurines, onto his canvases.
Within a few years Bailey’s growing body of work had found admirers. In 1994, he was invited to participate in a group exhibition titled “Equal Rights & Justice” at the High Museum in Atlanta. He also signed on with a prominent Atlanta dealer, the Fay Gold Gallery. ART-news reviewer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd found his first show at Fay Gold praiseworthy, especially for his exploration of African-American themes with a “restraint … which is remarkable for such a young artist.” She found fault only with one work, For Four Little Girls, Birmingham, Alabama, which, like most of Bailey’s art, serves to commemorate a specific moment in history—in this case, the church firebombing deaths of four girls during the worst days of the civil-rights struggle in the 1960s.
Bailey has also expanded into more three-dimensional confines with the occasional piece of sculpture. In the 1994 show, one of these was an anvil covered with shards of mirror—a piece, Jinkner-Lloyd asserted, that “entices visually. It also suggests savagery decorated with civility,” which she considered a fitting symbol for the history of race relations throughout the course of American history.
Bailey’s 1995 solo show at Fay Gold was critiqued by Art in America’s Lewis. He termed Bailey’s works “culturally literate and introspective without being sentimental,” and singled out The Magic City in particular as evidence of Bailey’s talents. This mixed-media work, 8 by 12 feet in dimension, recalls a dilapidated shack; onto it Bailey has worked in branding marks from an iron, a reference to one of the slave era’s more barbaric practices. Yet the work also incorporates other, less gruesome, symbols from African-American culture, such as a team emblem from one of the Negro League baseball teams that thrived in the first half of the twentieth century. Lewis found effusive praise for Bailey’s work in his Art in America review, especially in light of the relatively youthful artist’s sensitive handling of cultural themes. Bailey’s paintings and sculptures, wrote Lewis, “are what I hoped the ‘90s would bring—an art that bridges class and race.” Pop singer Elton John also found favor with Bailey’s art, buying a work from the Gold Gallery as a result of attending one of the artist’s first shows. In a dramatic honor, one of Bailey’s works—a large 40 by 12 foot mural—was selected to welcome visitors at in a hall at Atlanta main airport just in time for the 1996 Summer Olympics in that city.
Not surprisingly, Bailey’s career has taken him to the center of the art world. New York City’s David Beitzel Gallery has represented him since 1995. At a spring 1997 show there, Bailey showed several large mixed-media pieces. Mound Magician was fan-shaped, a baseball diamond with baseballs embedded in it, slashed by yellow, black and red stripes of paint. Other works, smaller in dimension, took the shape of musical instruments—Mingus, for instance, looked like a bass fiddle. Another, Black and Tan, resembled a grand piano suspended from a wall with orange, yellow and black color chords predominating. In place of a keyboard at the top, however, Bailey had instead put in flickering electric candles, an effect which pleased critic David Ebony; in his review, published on the web site artnet.com, Ebony declared, “this work, and the show as a whole, is exhilarating music for the eye.”
Art in America’s Calvin Reid also reviewed the Bailey show at David Beitzel, and found it impressive in both execution and scope. “Splattered by energetic brush patterns, portentous inscriptions and a spooky evocation of historical triumph, these works record a potent convergence of Pan African romanticism, downhome black mythology and the antic hipsterism of black American urban life,” Reid declared. In 1997, Bailey was also invited to contribute to “As Time Goes By: History, Memory, and Sentimentality” at the Stamford, Connecticut branch of New York’s famed Whitney Museum. Bailey sent Shango and Soular Taps, both of which continued the theme of incorporating vintage photographs; in this case, he used images of infants.
Bailey lives in a loft in Atlanta’s warehouse district, which is stacked with found objects that will someday find their way into his work. In his Art in America review, Lewis pointed to Bailey’s appropriation of found objects into his works as evidence of the artist’s solid grounding in the modernist traditions of twentieth-century art, but with a new twist; Lewis likened Bailey’s ultimate visual patterns to the use of samples in modern hip-hop music—“Bailey creates ‘real time’ within old space,” Lewis declared. The artist himself has used also the rhythms of African American culture as a metaphor on more than one occasion. “I like to think of my artworks as similar to the music of Thelonius Monk,” Bailey told Aukeman in ARTnews. “They’re like rituals that just happen.” In an interview with Vibe’s Kevin Powell a year later, Bailey stated, “I’m like free jazz. I’m not concerned about where I’m going, just as long as I’m moving forward and documenting life.”
“As Time Goes By” (solo), Whitney Museum, Stamford, CT 1997.
Art in America, March 1995, p. 110; February 1998, p. 103
ARTnews, April 1994, p. 180; November 1995, p. 112.
Gambit Weekly (New Orleans), October 27, 1997.
New York Times, July 27, 1997; December 24, 1997.
Vibe, August 1996.
“David Bailey’s New York Top Ten,” published at http://www.artnet.com/mag/magazine/reviews
More From encyclopedia.com
Hale Woodruff , Woodruff, Hale 1900–1980 Painter, muralist, art educator Hale Woodruff contributed to the development of African American art as an artist and a dist… Romare Bearden , Bearden, Romare 1912–1988 Artist A master of technique best known for his collage and photomontage compositions, esteemed artist Romare Bearden consi… Prints , Printmaking Historically, printmaking has fallen into the category of graphic arts, and includes relief printing, engraving, etching, aquatint, silks… Richmond Barthe , Barthe, Richmond 1901–1989 Sculptor “Image not available for copyright reasons” Richmond Barthe was one of the first sculptors to focus on blacks as… John T. Biggers , Biggers, John 1924–2001 Artist and educator As a painter, muralist, illustrator, and sculptor, John Biggers has made innumerable contributions to Ame… Faith Ringgold , Ringgold, Faith 1930– Painter, quiltmaker, sculptor, educator, writer On her storytelling quilt Tar Beach and in her self-illustrated children’s book…
About this article
Bailey, Radcliffe 1968–
Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article
You Might Also Like
Bailey, Radcliffe 1968–