I was sad to learn that Radcliffe Bailey, a game-changing American contemporary visual artist, passed away recently. I was truly inspired by the time I spent with him. Radcliffe’s unique artistic approach, mixing media, paint, and sculpture, explored African-American history and the intersection of ancestry, race, and cultural memory in the everyday.
Bailey was born in Bridgeton, New Jersey, on November 25, 1968, but moved to Atlanta, Georgia, by the age of four. Curator of modern and contemporary art Michael Rooks once said that Bailey was “probably the most prominent living artist here in Atlanta.” The city’s High Museum of Art was a source of inspiration for Bailey, leading him to attend the Atlanta College of Art, where the city’s history with civil rights and the Civil War served as some of his greatest artistic muses.
His style was distinctive and captivating. Bailey was recognized for incorporating vintage family photographs, piano keys, sheet music, African statues, train tracks, Georgia clay, vinyl records, bottle caps, and other aged or antique items into his work. He revolved his art around history and the mystery of history. I’m happy that some of his legacy and works will live on in the Clark Collection.
“Stride” is an incredible sculpture from 2007 that Bailey created. It is made of mixed media, glitter, and steel in wood vitrine. “To Be Tilted” is a breathtaking portrait made of mixed media reminiscent of Bailey himself. He created it in 2014, and it features a tilted hat and a stoic expression that is very alluring. “Sweet Earth Flying” is the polar opposite. Vibrant colors evoke emotions devised with acrylic on paper. There is truly nothing that Bailey could not bring together beautifully to spark conversation and connection.
Bailey’s exploration of the collective consciousness of African diasporas and regional American identities began with individual experiences he expanded upon and dissected. Many of his pieces are featured in permanent collections in some of the most prestigious galleries in the world, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, The Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., The Art Institute of Chicago, and course, one of the very places that promoted his passions – The High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
The world is less artistic with the loss of one of my favorite artists and humans. I send my deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all who had the pleasure of knowing him. Bailey once said, “For me as an artist, I want to be known as an artist. At the end of the day, I want to be known as a human. I just want to be respected.” And that is exactly how his memory and legacy will remain!