My work is part of a figurative tradition which focuses on the complexities of the human condition. Those working in this tradition have used social, religious, mythological, historical, and political frameworks in which to depict humans with whom the viewer can empathize. I’m concerned with humans who evolved for tens of thousands of years to function in small tribes that now exist in the modern world of nations, corporations, and ideologies. Humans with pre-civilization biology facing challenges unique to modernity. The countless people who will be displaced by climate change. The challenges of defining what is human in the face of artificial intelligence. Increased emotional isolation in the Information Age which promised connection and the removal of social barriers.
I make paintings and drawings which focus entirely on the human figure within an emotive context. I primarily work in line and I layer forms in the picture plane that reference neolithic cave paintings and photographic multiple exposures where time is fractured and motion is implied. I consider mark making to be a vital component of my work, thinking of every mark as a musical note or line from a poem. My large canvases recall Golub’s Interrogation paintings, Orozco’s murals, LeBrun’s crucifixion paintings, and the drawings of the Chauvet Cave in southern France.
In recent years I’ve made work which considers the concept of the refugee; people who are forced from their homeland and are without place. Recalling Goya’s madmen, witches, and war dead, Doré’s depraved and damned souls, and Bacon’s tortured portraits, I render fragmented humans without possessions and in an environmental void. These images are topical in the contemporary realm as they can be seen as people displaced by conflict, societal breakdown, or environmental degradation. They connect with their audience as we are often numb to journalistic photography but are engaged with images, especially paintings and drawings, of humans outside of the personal and the political. Space and distance allow for empathy.
Ultimately, I aim to make art which honestly recalls my personal background and expresses my preoccupations with the time in which I live. I was born in the mid 1970’s in Reno, Nevada where I was raised on a cultural diet of comic books, science fiction, horror movies, roleplaying games, and punk rock/heavy metal music. I started drawing at an early age as a means to avoid social engagement, express my inner self, and visually think through ideas which words failed to illuminate. Both of my parents were teachers who exposed me to travel, art, literature, history, and philosophy. I was fortunate to see Picasso’s Guernica at age 7 which left the indelible impression that art can speak to the painful challenges that all humans face. My work is influenced and contextualized by higher fine art, fringe popular culture, and existential and moral philosophy.
A consideration of Hegel’s aesthetics suggests that a portrait is only successful if it surpasses mere imitation and in turn looks more like the thing than the actual thing itself. My goal is to make art which has more questions than answers, leaving the viewer to find that which exceeds imitation.
Jay Bailey was born in Reno, Nevada in 1976. He has a BA in Fine Art from the University of Nevada in Reno, undertook post-baccalaureate studies at the San Francisco Art Institute and has his MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has shown his work in group and solo exhibitions in the United States, Canada, and Australia. He is represented by JM Gallery in Dallas Texas.
He currently lives and works in Dallas, Texas with his wife and daughter.