William Bailey. American, born 1930

Contemporary Realist


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Artist Statement

"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."

William Bailey
Essays

American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America
Robert Hughes

"It took time - too much time - for the magnitude of Diebenkorn's achievement to be fully recognized in New York. For entirely figurative artists, of course, it was harder still. They were reluctantly granted a niche at the side of the "mainstream," but not much more. Few people in the 1970s would have taken the view that, for all the difficulty of comparing apples and oranges, the calm and timelessly ordered still-lives of William Bailey were at least as full of pictorial intelligence and visual subtlety as anything in color-field painting, although it was obvious that they belonged to a different order of pictorial ambition from that of most American realism at the time, which tended to be anecdotal and nostalgic. There was nothing nostalgic or narrative about Bailey's work. Its calm arrays of pots, jugs, eggs, and bowls make up an ideal form-world, Platonic in its removal from "the itch of desire." Nothing spills out, thrusts forward, or wants to be touched or possessed - the traditional solicitations of still-life painting, most materialistic of arts. They are as removed from touch (and as grandly articulate in their scale) as the façade of a fine quattrocento building, seen from the other side of the piazza: it is no accident that Bailey should have had a profound attraction to Italy, or that he spent summers in Monterchi, where Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto presides in the local cemetery. They are less domestic and tactile than Chardin and more precise (and, crucially, less modest) than Morandi. Distance envelops them; they are, as his friend the poet Mark Strand put it, "realizations of an idea," in which all the groping toward the idea has been submerged - an extreme opposite to the American taste for works of art which bear the signs of their struggle, unedited, in their final form."


William Bailey

Born in 1930 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, William Bailey is certainly American, but he has spent summers in his studio in the Italian countryside for more than forty years. The colors and feeling of Italy are important influences on his art. In American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America, Robert Hughes writes that Bailey’s “calm arrays of pots, jugs, eggs, and bowls make up an ideal form-world, Platonic in its removal from ‘the itch of desire.’ Nothing spills out, thrusts forward, or wants to be touched or possessed—the traditional solicitations of still-life painting, most materialistic of arts. They are as removed from touch (and as grandly articulate in their scale) as the facade of a fine quattrocento building, seen from the other side of the piazza … an extreme opposite to the American taste for works of art which bear the signs of their struggle, unedited, in their final form.”

Bailey paints and draws from his imagination and his memories of observation, rather than directly from models. He has said that he sees his still lifes as Italian cities. Although the things he depicts do exist in the real world—pots, pitchers, eggs, and (in separate contexts) nudes—his work projects a solemn, otherworldly perfection. Just as a city’s aura comes not just from its buildings and streets, but from its history, the quality of its light, its temperature, and so on, the sensibility of Bailey’s work does not come solely from the objects he depicts, but from the strangely familiar, silent nature of his world. Because of the precision of his art-making process, he completes only four or five paintings a year. He has worked in etching since 1974, when he made his first prints at Crown Point Press. He also works with Harlan and Weaver in New York.

For many years Bailey was an educator at the Yale University School of Art, where he received his BFA in 1955 and his MFA in 1957, and where from 1979 to 1995 he was the Kingman Brewster professor of art. His numerous awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1965 and an invitation in 1992 to serve on the National Council on the Arts, a group of artists, arts administrators, and patrons appointed by the President to advise the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. He has shown internationally, including at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Kaoshiung Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan. His work is in the collections of many university museums, including Michigan, Duke, and Yale, and other museums, such as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen, West Germany, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is represented in New York by the Robert Miller Gallery.

Rachel Lyon
Crown Point Press

Biography

Bailey has moved from early experiments to the achievements of today, on the impulse of a youthful vocation for drawing, which took him from art school in the Midwest to the Korean War, to Yale, where he befriended De Kooning and Pollock, and to studies with Josef Albers. Bailey loved the past and repeatedly looked at the classics of European painting.

Bailey’s still-lifes (so often with suggestive Italian titles), are distinct domestic objects arranged frontally on top of a table that coincides with the line of the horizon. They stand against a barely modulated background with the studied conventional equilibrium of sculpture on the pediment of a Greek temple or the sanctity of objects set out on an altar.

Bailey picks up again tenaciously and faithfully the threads of a visual concern, of an aspect of the life of forms, that takes place over a long period of time and that runs as a current beneath the surface of contemporary art, emerging sometimes as a desire for order and formal beauty, even as contemporary expressions seem often to revolt against the past. For Bailey this formal aspect manifests itself as an explicit reference to historical sources, mainly in the need to fill the emptiness of space with the fullness of objects and to fill the fullness of space between objects through the severe dialectic of formal relations.

Credit, Forum Gallery, New York, about Bailey

CV

born 1930 Council Bluffs, IA

education
1948-51 School of Fine Arts, University of Kansas
1955 Yale University, New Haven, CT BFA
1957 Yale University, New Haven, CT MFA
permanent collections
Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, AK
The Art Institute of Chicago IL
Des Moines Art Center, IO
Detroit Institute of Arts, MI
de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
Evansville Museum of Art, IN
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, CA
Fralin Museum of Art, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, DC
Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington
The Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis
J. B. Speed Museum, Louisville, KY
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, MI
Kresge Art Museum, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN
Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ
Museum of Art of Ogunquit, ME
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York
     Purchase
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton
Orlando Museum of Art, FL
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, PA
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
The Saint Louis Art Museum, MO
Sheldon Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, IN
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Städtisches Sürmondt Ludwig Museum, Aachen, Germany
State University of New York at Cortland, NY
University Art Museum, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
University Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City
University of Kentucky, Lexington
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Louisville, KY
University of Tulsa, OK
The Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina
     at Greensboro
The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Wichita Art Museum, KS
The William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, Storrs
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT


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