TheGrio's 100: Radcliffe Bailey, creating art from history

theGRIOs 100 - Radcliffe Bailey has been described as one of the most prominent living artists in Atlanta, known for his installation and mixed-media works depicting African and American history.

Radcliffe Bailey, 43, has been described as one of the most prominent living artists in Atlanta, known for his installation and mixed-media works depicting African and American history. Bailey has lived in Atlanta for most of his life, and uses this historical backdrop in many of his works.

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“Windward Coast,” is a 2009 installation piece featured in Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine, one of his biggest exhibitions to date shown at the High Museum in Atlanta last June. The work features a white-walled room filled with hundreds of wooden piano keys Bailey collected, with a glittering bust of a black man submerged in the ocean-like wave of keys. In an interview with the museum’s African art curator, Bailey said “Windward Coast” has “layers of meaning,” representing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the devastation after the Japan earthquake as well as slaves who were lost in the ocean during the Middle Passage.

“When you’re out in the middle of the sea, there’s this calm that you have. It can overwhelm you, but then at the same time you’re at peace with it. It’s like finding peace within chaos,” Bailey said.

Bailey took art classes throughout his life and earned his bachelor’s of fine arts degree from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991. He is married to actress Victoria Rowell.

Radcliffe Bailey is making history… as an internationally known artist with historical perspective. His work is part of collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and other institutions.

What’s next for Radcliffe?

Bailey continues to create art that provokes the mind and brings up the experiences of the past.

In his own words…

“I’ve always been interested in my work in relationship to my friendships and my family,” he said during an interview with the New York Times. “I’ve always wanted to make work that would speak to them — not over them, not around them, but straight-forward to them.”

A little-known fact about art courses

In 1982, just over 50 percent of African Americans age 18 to 24 said they had taken an arts course during their lifetime, according to a survey by the National Endowment for the Arts. That percentage dropped to 26 percent in 2008. For whites, 59 percent reported receiving some formal arts education in 1982, with only a 2 percent drop in 2008.

Q: What’s next in this chapter of your life?

A: I think part of it is trying to stay focused. I hope to be considered as a forever emerging artist. I hope I am ageless. I hope to be one of those people who lives on and on beyond. I want to see myself forever as a student of the then and now.

Q: What’s a fact about you that many people don’t know?

A: There’s a certain level of insecurity have whenever I start to a paint. I am very comfortable behind my work, but I am also very uncomfortable. It is like a double edge thing. I feel like it’s part of the insecurities are probably a strength. It’s an interesting part about being human that is more important. I feel like there is perfection in imperfection…

Q: Where do you get your inspiration?

A: I seek a lot of inspiration from everything that’s in my backyard. I also seek inspiration from family and those that are close to me. I get a lot of inspiration from the information they have given me. Growing up, African Americans were passed down information orally, and I think that I get a lot of inspiration from conversations and things that are passed out to me. I think one of the people who inspired me the most was my grandma. She actually gave me photos right before she died. And that was the perfect gift to give me that influenced my work. I feel like my inspiration tends to different. There’s something funny about it…they tend to be things that are secure and are heartfelt, which are so taboo nowadays like it’s not cool to express those kinds of feelings or that sensibility towards family. However, for me it’s been one of my strengths.

Q: Who are/were your mentors?

A: I have so many mentors… family ones, friends who are older than me, and more. I’ve been inspired by mentors I need, and some that I have never actually knew. Many I known through their work, and they have become mentors to me just like anybody else. There have even been people who existed throughout time and history as well as people who are not necessarily known who have been mentors to me.

Artists who inspired me are so from many different backgrounds and many different places. It would be a disservice to only mention a few of them, since there are so many of them that have impacted me…all in different ways. It goes from family to friends and to a number of people who have made it easier for me to climb.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to achieve their dreams?

A: Don’t stop! Just don’t stop dreaming.