Radcliffe Bailey’s Ships and Sea

In the Garden, 2008

Atlanta has this interesting past that makes you want to dig deeper and understand what was once there, even though it may be covered…Sherman burnt down the city. They say when you want to get rid of something, you burn it, but you don’t really get rid of it. I can look out my back door and see a lot — Radcliffe Bailey via NY Times

Radcliffe Bailey’s work Seven Steps, above, was on view at the Georgia Museum of Art when I went recently, and I love the layered colors and use of materials offset by the sepia photograph. It was recently part of an exhibition at the High Museum in Atalanta that I just missed, Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine, showcasing the Atlanta-based artist’s work on its biggest level yet. Bailey uses a variety of materials to explore history both personal and collective, and he engages memory as a device to encourage healing through art.

Tricky, 2008

Bailey is maybe better know for a layering of imagery, culturally resonant materials, and text that began when he was given some old family photographs to work with. But looking at the images from the exhibition, I was really drawn to some of his more sculptural pieces, like Tricky, above. A textured black surface juxtaposed with the jaunty tilt of the hat encase a slave ship. In The Antelope, he again presents a black ship, this time encased in glass like a fossil and sailing over white cloth/paper. 

The Antelope, 2010

The large installation Windward Coast creates a rolling ocean of piano keys harvested from some 400 pianos, suggesting the oceans traversed in the slave trade and in their midst a lone black head, the same glittery texture as the ship in Tricky, appears.

Detail view of Windward Coast

The artist does not consider his work to be solely dark or only about slavery however (as you might not realize by the pieces I’m showing here). Regarding Windward Coast, he told the New York Times, “I think about all the music that was probably played on those keys. An ocean is something that divides people. Music is something that connects people. Duke Ellington or Thelonious Monk — it’s a different sound that takes you somewhere else. It’s also about being at peace.”

Installation View, Memory as Medicine at the High Museum

More about the exhibition here and images of the artist’s work here.

One thought on “Radcliffe Bailey’s Ships and Sea

Leave a Reply