Beyond Noise

The painter William Bailey died in April, 2020, aged 89. He taught for many years at the Yale School of Art, and is said to have influenced generations of students.

In 2010, Bailey decried the amount of “noise” present in contemporary art. “So much gesture,” he said.

The comments about Bailey’s work make a certain amount of noise themselves, having in common a perception of complexity lurking beneath the silent surfaces.

He swathed simple objects “in a breathless, deceptively serene atmosphere heavy with mystery.”

He conjured a “timeless world inhabited by Platonic forms, recognizable but uncanny…”

“They are at once vividly real and objects in dream…” (Hilton Kramer, 1979).

His female figures… “are disconcertingly impassive, implacable and unreadable, fleshly presences breathing an otherworldly air.”

His apparent traditionalism was entirely idiosyncratic, “‘a modernism so contrarian,’ the artist Alexi Worth wrote…, ‘that it feels… almost like a brand of outsider art.”

My ten cents is that he ventured devoutly into the realm of the exquisitely plain, but Mr. Bailey has the last word:

“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 Grimes, “William Bailey, Modernist Figurative Painter, Dies at 89,” NYTimes, 4-18-20)

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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