UT professor moderates talk exploring works of artist Radcliffe Bailey

Matthew Hart

Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey takes relics from his family’s history to create works that explore the African-American experience. 

“I think that art comes from a place that’s pretty close to me,” Bailey said Monday night at the Blanton Museum of Art Auditorium. “My grandmother gave me about 400 photographs right before she died and since then I’ve always tried to make things that would connect with my family members.”

Bailey said each image to him is like a deity. Part of the relationship with his art is tied to his family and conversations he has had with them.

“I always feel like I live between two different worlds, things that are tangible and things that are non-tangible and the paintings deal with things that are non-tangible, so I’ve always sort of played by the idea that we set ourselves between crossroads, between life and death,” Bailey said.

UT professor Michael Ray Charles moderated the talk with Bailey. The talk was presented in partnership with the UT Center for Art of Africa and its Diasporas and explored the origins of Bailey’s sculptures, photographs and mixed-media paintings.

Charles said he is intrigued by Bailey’s photographs and the context in terms of how the images come about.

“These photos are all post-reconstruction, so your work poses as an opportunity for African-Americans to reconstruct images themselves as opposed to being constructed,” Charles said.

Charles said Bailey seems to connect with his images, with the faces and with the people.

“You use your art to reconfigure their lives, and I’ve never heard anybody speak about that aspect in your work,” Charles said.

Bailey relies on his memory for his artwork and says photographs were like his first form of DNA. He also he approaches his art much like a dance while in the studio.

“It’s very normal for me to be working on 30 different things at one time but I have to bounce around each one,” Bailey said. “I’m staying busy not just because I have a deadline, but I have to keep moving because I can’t sit on one page. I have times where I just don’t work at all.”

Bailey said to this day he couldn’t have guessed he would be an artist. He says he did art in college because of his inability to play baseball.

“I think when I first started making art it wasn’t about me,” Bailey said. “I see myself as a vessel and things come through me rather than become about me.”