“I’ve always had one foot in the past, I always have one foot in the present,” says African-American artist, Radcliffe Bailey. Painter, sculptor and assemblage artist, Bailey works with found materials including photographs, African sculpture and musical scores to create pieces that speak of identity, race and collective memory.
Born in New Jersey, Bailey grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where he still lives and works. He studied at the Atlanta College of Art and has taught at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Bailey views his practice as a means to achieve understanding and healing; by layering different materials and ingredients, he creates visual narratives that blend beauty and suffering, history and the present day. An element of play is essential in Bailey’s work too. He looks for “materials that can speak” and seeks opportunities to arrange them in such a way that these objects can converse with each other.
In Windward Coast – West Coast Slave Trade (2009-2011), for example, a slave ship navigates a hostile sea made of thousands of piano keys, while a black disembodied head bobs on its own, a stark reminder of those lost to history. In 2014, this installation was presented as part of the First International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
Bailey has held solo exhibitions at museum venues across the USA, including at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, the Contemporary Arts Centre, New Orleans and McNay Art Museum, Texas. His work forms part of the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others.