African American artist Radcliffe Bailey is part of a new generation of artists bringing the complex and often hidden realities of contemporary America to life. Bailey believes that making things very personal he can achieve a sense of human universality. He is deeply influenced by history, by family, by his community, and his work reflects an appreciation for the alternative voices that shape how we live.
Bailey first became known for a series of mixed media medicine cabinets, begun in 2003, inspired by Kongo minkisi, or power figure, objects that convey strong, symbolic spiritual resonance. Bailey uses as his muse the artists, poets, musicians, blacksmiths and artisans who came before him, weaving together images of conquest and resistance that reflect African American life today.
Pensive depicts African American writer, historian, sociologist, editor and activist W.E.B. Du Bois (1868 1963) in the position of Rodin's iconic work The Thinker, originally designed in 1880 as the cornerstone for Rodin's masterpiece The Gates of Hell. In Rodin's version, The Thinker is 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, completed in 1320. Dante sits in his well-known position, contemplating the circles of hell as described in Christian theology. In his epic poem, Alighieri wrote about his own life and exile, mirroring perhaps DuBois' own alienation. Both Du Bois and Alighieri are depicted as deeply philosophical men, pondering the harsh realities of human behavior although separated by centuries of time.
Bailey's work is "...is a meditation on "double consciousness," a term coined in the section titled "Of Our Spiritual Strivings" in Du Bois' seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, published 1903....[DuBois) describes a second sense of self that is seen through the eyes of others."
Radcliffe Bailey was born in 1968 in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and currently lives and works in Atlanta. He received his BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991.
Recent one-person exhibitions of his work have been held at: The Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah; Big Pond Artworks, Munich; the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans; the Fine Arts Center Gallery, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; the High Museum of Art, with travel to other venues across the US, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts & Culture, Charlotte; the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio; the Toledo Museum of Art; and the Museum of
the University of Houston, among others. Selected group exhibitions include: The 16th Istanbul Biennial, 2019; the California African American Museum, Los Angeles; Telfair Museums, Savannah; the Frist Art Museum, Nashville; the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham; the Speed Art Museum, Louisville; the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, Louisville; the First Intemational Biennial of Contemporary Art of Cartagena de Indias, Columbia; Dak'Art 2014: Biennale de l'Art Africain Contemporain, Dakar, Senegal; the Tate Liverpool, United Kingdom; the Havana Biennial, Cuba; and the Des Moines Art Center, among others.
Bailey's work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, the Denver Art Museum; and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, among others.