peterfrank     Amadea Bailey paints not as she might, but as she must. This is a statement of fact, well beyond any romanticizing cliché. Importantly, it reveals Bailey as an artist willing to produce seemingly unrelated bodies of work. But are those bodies of work really “unrelated”? Is a painter like Bailey truly changing what she is doing when she includes figures and recognizable marks in her work – or, conversely, when she lets entirely open-ended gestures comprise the entire painting? In fact, to regard Bailey as “eclectic” is to deny what motivates artists – not the production of images consistent with one another, but the production of experiences that ultimately serve to manifest the full range of artists’ sensibilities. Few artists, of course, can ever realize the full range of their sensibilities; being human, they take in the world and, being artists, they re-form it as best they can, with what resources and time they have. But being an artist means at least trying to encompass that breadth of sensibility. Every artist is a priest or shaman of sorts, a connection to the unseen, or once-seen, universe, and that requires visionary ambition. Bailey is fully aware of this condition; indeed, both its profundity and the freedom it can provide motivate her. When she throws brushstrokes across a mottled canvas and a multiplicity of arcs, conforming to a birdlike motif, emerges, Bailey gives voice to her experience – no less than when she accrues marks and scrawls on an active surface, hieroglyphic effects that coalesce into totemic figures. Both styles, Bailey’s current preoccupations, require her to “go wide,” to work and think broadly; she commands physical space in order to recapitulate her emotional space. To be sure, it’s an ongoing love affair with paint. She commutes, among other things, the pleasure she takes in this most sensuous of media. But Bailey loves painting because of what it can do and what she feels impelled to bring to it. For her, the act of painting is no simple release, but a declaration of commitment, both to personal vision and to the history and tradition of a medium. As she attests, Bailey was triggered to paint by a confrontation with Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, a chance encounter at New York’s Museum of Modern Art while she was in college. It provoked the realization that she had a painter in her and needed to bring it out. Until then she had not thought of herself as a visual artist, but quickly realized that she had a rich bank of childhood experiences that were clamoring to emerge and painting was the best way to bring them to the fore. Bailey talks vividly of her youth in East Africa; she remembers the land and the people, her sense of light and sense of space and sense of joy, with almost delirious clarity. Her paintings are attempts to recapture and convey such sensations, with the kind of, shall we say, approximate precision abstraction allows. We don’t see the Serengeti Plain or a village festival in these works; we don’t even necessarily feel them. But we sense, deeply, how they affected Bailey – just as we sense, deeply, how those Water Lilies moved her – and what she conveys is the force of that affectation (not to mention her responding affection). Bailey makes the kind of art that channels sensation. More than a conduit for experience in general, she allows her particular experience to inhabit the canvas and pull us in – not into the particularity of the experience, but into the experience itself, felt almost on a somatic level. (In their gestural intensity her paintings remind us that Bailey was once considering a professional dancing career.) These paintings are not autobiographical, but recollective and projective on the most basic sensorial level(s), at once phenomenological and metaphoric. They are not second-hand statements, but distillations and recapitulations of first-hand experiences – sensations, memories, memories of sensations. This work is not about Amadea Bailey, it is through her – and in its variety it begins to embrace the variety of life. Painting in the studio is a ritual for anyone who needs to paint, and out of that ritual emerges the painter’s sensibility. Bailey’s studio is not simply the site of her production or even the laboratory for her expression but the nexus of her consciousness, the place where she continually finds out how she will orchestrate her wealth of sensate knowledge so that she might most readily share it with other human beings. This is arguably true of all genuine painters, but Bailey’s approach capitalizes quite deliberately on the unique energy of the painting studio. For her, it is a place not just where things are made, but where things happen – the theater of the Abstract Expressionist ethos, which has clearly informed her aesthetic, but also the kinesthetic realm where dance is born. Amadea Bailey does not indulge only, or even chiefly, herself. She indulges – and challenges, lures, upsets and moves – us. Los Angeles                                                                                                                                                                                        June 2013

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