Geboren in 1930 is hij net geen 90 geworden toen hij in april van dit jaar thuis in Branford Conn. USA overleed. In tegenstelling met de stillevens uit diverse tijdperken van de kunstgeschiedenis is zijn werk noch symbolisch, noch eterisch door een atmosfeer van stilte en rust, door composities van voorwerpen rondom ons. Voor hem worden het ‘karakters’.
They become characters in whatever I am manipulating, but not symbols. There is nothing ideological in the work. I would say that the relationships between the objects are more important than their individual identities, and those relationships change in the process — often radically.
In some of his best-known work, Mr. Bailey arranged simple objects — the eggs, bowls, bottles and vases that he once called “my repertory company” — along a severe horizontal shelf, or on a plain table, swathing them in a breathless, deceptively serene atmosphere heavy with mystery.
His muted ochres, grays and powdery blues conjured up a still, timeless world inhabited by Platonic forms, recognizable but uncanny, in part because he painted from imagination rather than life. (NY Times William Grimes april 18 2020)
Mr. Bailey’s female figures, some clothed in a simple shift or robe and others partly or entirely nude, are disconcertingly impassive, implacable and unreadable, fleshly presences breathing an otherworldly air. The critic Mark Stevens, writing in Newsweek in 1982, credited Mr. Bailey with helping to “restore representational art to a position of consequence in modern painting.”
“They are at once vividly real and objects in dream, and it is the poetry of this double life that elevates all this humble crockery to the realm of pictorial romance,” Hilton Kramer wrote in The New York Times in 1979.
Mr. Bailey studied art at the University of Kansas but left before graduating and enlisted in the Army. He saw combat as a platoon sergeant in Korea and later served in Japan. On returning to the United States, he enrolled in Yale University’s art school, where he studied with the abstract painter Josef Albers. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1955 and a master’s degree two years later. A revival of interest in figurative painting in the early 1980s propelled Mr. Bailey to the cover of Newsweek, which chose his seminude “Portrait of S” to epitomize the trend. Shocked retailers across the country pulled the magazine from their shelves.(NY Times William Grimes april 18 2020)
“I admire painters who can work directly from nature, but for me that seems to lead to anecdotal painting. Realism is about interpreting daily life in the world around us. I’m trying to paint a world that’s not around us.”
Emitting a quiet intensity, and appearing to be painted from observation, his works are composed from memory and sketches. “I don't like categories. I have been variously described as a realist and as a classicist. The paintings I do are not from life—they're made up, but they're made up from real situations. All these things come from my memory really.” The artist is strongly influenced by the work of the Italian still-life painter Giorgio Morandi and the pre-Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca. He lives and works between Umbertide, Italy and New Haven, CT. Honored as a Professor Emeritus of Art at Yale University, Bailey’s work is represented in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago. (artnet)
I don’t like categories. I have been variously described as a realist and as a classicist. The paintings I do are not from life — they’re made up, but they’re made up from real situations. Real objects. You can see some objects over there on the other side of the room. I don’t paint from those things, but they’re actors in my repertory company. The figures as well are not from life nor is the landscape. Although about two weeks into that painting I was looking at the landscape and I realized that it’s almost exactly the landscape I see driving up and down from my house to the town below … So all these things come from my memory really. (Yale edu)
Quite often when I’m starting a painting, I’ll set up a situation in my mind and explore it in drawings with different poses and different situations but always the same subject matter. After I do this imagining the situation on paper, I start the painting without the use of any of these drawings. Literally. I don’t do any of these as studies to be transferred to the painting. It’s just a way of thinking about the place.
I don’t think it’s mystical. When my work changed around 1960, I was thinking, “There’s so much noise in contemporary art. So much gesture.” I realized it wasn’t my natural bent to make a lot of noise and I’m not very good at rhetorical gesture. So this came on a little gradually. With the egg paintings, I started thinking about time and slowing the paintings down and allowing relationships to develop in time and somehow the time I spent in developing those relationships was reflected in the way the image was read. It wasn’t read quickly because it wasn’t painted quickly, and the relationships didn’t reveal themselves easily because they weren’t arrived at easily. And it’s that complication I think that got into the work. The paintings that I know, that I admire like Piero, have that quality, that silence. I’m sure that’s gotten into the work, but I don’t have a formula for it.
When I was a kid I did quite a lot of drawing, because we moved around all the time and I didn’t have any friends. My father worked in radio broadcasting in its early days, and we moved from one radio station to another. We lived in Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City and Omaha. I don’t have any real hometown. I just drew things that I made up … from movies or books. People told me I was “an artist,” but I didn’t know what that meant in terms of being a painter. My father was supportive in the sense that he thought it would be good if I were a commercial artist.
Minutes before seeing a collection of William Bailey’s meditative still-lifes and figure paintings, I heard, yet again, a series of small-minded and reckless comments by Donald Trump. How soul enriching to leave behind a sleazy Presidential candidate’s hate and hubris to be in the presence of a masterful artist’s refined vision and voice. Bailey’s exhibit at the Betty Cuningham Gallery provides a welcome respite from the kind of nasty energy and ideas Trump-like politicians spew–so different from the picture-perfect, yet unconventional, world to which Bailey transports us. (Barry Nemett Hyperallergic)
Shortly after the painter was born eighty-six years ago, the poet T.S. Eliot wrote, in lines that could have been composed to describe every image in Bailey’s show:
Time past and time future What might have been and what has been point to one end, which is always present. —Burnt Norton, Number 1 of Four Quartets
Echoes and rhymes: Bailey’s timeless, dreamlike still-lifes are as otherworldly as his figures in landscapes and interiors, and they are just as rigorously ordered. In the same poem, T.S. Eliot writes:
Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, there is no dance, and there is only the dance.
William Bailey’s artwork is about digging in toward a place of exquisite balance and quiet power –the still point – being true to who he is and how he sees the world, and exploring his vision and dreams ever deeper. This is exactly what the world needs : dreams that are open, gracious, genuine, and tenaciously embraced. Dreams that strive to undo “the damage of haste.”(ibidem)
In de verstilling van een leven tekenen en schilderen tussen de States en zijn geliefd Italië probeerde ik een staalkaart te maken van zijn merkwaardig werk. Zijn we gewend aan beweging en afwisseling, William Bailey nam ons mee naar de stilte die begrippen als groot, klein, rond, ver en dichtbij vertaalde via figuratie en voorwerpen. Omdat zijn onderwerpen stilstaan maken hij een innerlijke beweging mogelijk.
Je kunt zijn werk benoemen als pogingen tot een figuratieve abstractie: de figuren zijn meer dan hun bekende vorm. Ze brengen de aandacht op afstand-tot-elkaar, tot verhoudingen en kleuren. Ze offeren hun momentele vormelijkheid op aan de abstractie van het totaal die je bij elke beschouwing weer anders kunt invullen.
Hieronder nog een mooie film waarin Morandi’s en Bailey’s werk worden samengbebracht. Was hij niet dadelijk de modische naam, zijn leerlingen apprecieerden zijn pedagogisch werk ten zeerste. Hij leerde ze geen methode, maar voortdurend hun eigen weg te zoeken.
It’s all staged, artificial, a sort of little theater of the perceptually absurd: the objects are facades for pure form, nuanced color, complicated space and subtle shadow and light. It is the formal difference between the objects -- the difference between their sizes, shapes, colors and tonalities -- that matter for Bailey, not their ingratiating familiarity. They are not real, but esthetic hallucinations -- abstractly constructed hallucinations. Bailey’s “family” of objects -- there’s the three big adults (the differently shaped, colored and illuminated pitcher, bowl and bottle), and there’s the three little children (the more look-alike cups) -- but the point is that they’re all performing an abstract ballet on a stage. They’re carefully scripted, rather than spontaneously given. This is not Morandi, whose objects have an existential presence and resonance, but objects distilled to their timeless essence, suggesting that they are sort of hallucinatory things in themselves -- Platonically pure ideas that Bailey has hallucinated, projections of his imaginative mind’s eye, and as such unreal, or rather irreal, for they hover between reality and unreality.(Donald Kuspit, Constructed Hallucinations, artnet)
Bailey’s closed forms reflect another trajectory, that of Italian chiaroscuro (“light/dark”), crucial to neo-classical certainty, which modernists since Picasso (Léger, scuola romana, Rivera, Tooker, early Gorky and Guston, etc.) have also utilized. Advanced by Masaccio, Leonardo moved chiaroscuro in the direction of timeless, sculptural solidity - so different from ephemeral Impressionist light (or the emotive variability, thus temporality, of Rembrandt’s). Modeling forms from recollection, as Bailey does, is a modern echo of the mimetic drawing of plaster casts to build up a visual memory bank.(Painters' table Margaret McCann May 27, 2017)