Radcliffe Bailey is a painter, sculptor, and mixed media artist who utilizes the layering of imagery, culturally resonant materials, and text to explore themes of ancestry, race, and memory. Bailey believes that by translating his personal experiences, he can achieve an understanding of, and a healing from, a universal history. His work is often created out of found materials and certain pieces from his past, including traditional African sculpture, tintypes of his family members, piano keys, and Georgia red clay.
Radcliffe Bailey was born in Bridgeton, New Jersey in 1968. At age 4, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, which is where he currently resides. His interest in art was galvanised by childhood visits to the High Museum of Art and drawing classes he later took at the Atlanta College of Art. He cites the Atlanta’s history with civil rights and the Civil War as an artistic inspiration. Bailey received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1991 from the Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Atlanta College of Art. From 2001 to 2006, he taught in the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia.
Bailey was trained as a sculptor but experiments with paint and mixed media. He works within the convergence of painting and sculpture, utilising items, such as vintage photographs of his family, vinyl records, piano keys and bottle-caps. Thematically, his art explores the intersection of ancestry, race and cultural memory. In 2003, he adopted a style of art conceptually inspired by Kongo minkisi, which he described as being “medicine cabinet sculptures”. As a result, his work has been described as being three-dimensional and layered, incorporating elements of smell and sound. In a 2013 interview, Bailey described his creative process and fascination with the connection between past and present, stating: “The day by day experience of art, even though my work may seem to have this layer of history, it is also a cover for what I’m dealing with on a day to day. It’s very much about today. We were talking about where I go next: I’m still thinking about today and yesterday and what’s coming in front of me tomorrow.” He is largely inspired by historic figures, citing individuals such as George Washington Carver and Charleston-based blacksmith Philip Simmons as sources of inspiration. His large-scale installation Windward Coast (2009-2011), was presented as part of the First International Biennial of Contemporary Art of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. He has been awarded for his artistic contributions, receiving the Joan Foundation Grant in 2008 and Elizabeth and Mallory Factory Prize for Southern Art in 2010.