CLIFFORD BAILEY – THE JAZZ ARTIST
An essay by Tony Mostrom
Clifford Bailey’s lush paintings of jazz musicians not only reflect the artist’s love of the Roaring Twenties, “le jazz hot” and the ambience of speakeasies and smoky nightspots, but through the visual immediacy of his fluid, gestural and “painterly” style, they often evoke the rhythms of jazz themselves.
Standing in front of his large canvases , one’s vision follows animated patterns of horizontal and vertical planes; in other words, the images aren’t static, they jump and swing.
But Bailey doesn’t stick exclusively to painting hornblowers, and whether his subject is nostalgic, turn of the century New York street scenes, musicians , or straight portraiture, he uses thickly-applied but tightly controlled brushstrokes to produce those strange, smirking, and uncanny faces .
Bailey’s cityscapes all display the loose-but-controlled brushwork and keen eye for Impressionistic color reminiscent of that early 20th century Ashcan School of American painters (dig Bailey’s tasty – nay, chewable slab of thick-painted cityscape titled SOHO MINIATURE. Yum).
Bailey is a full-time artist, as evidenced by the sketchbooks he’s continually filled over the years with pen n’ ink portraits, mainly of musicians. “I’ve been carrying these books around for ten years as a kind of journal,” he says, taking them to nightspots, filling page after page with stylized, stipple-lined Rapidograph drawings , all evoking – this time through line – the nervous vibrancy of the music itself.
Bailey is prolific and never stops producing; while continuing to paint and show new work he also launched a career in self-publishing, with a series of limited edition Giclée reproductions of selected choice works.
Why don’t more artists delve into the potentially rich terrain of art-about-music? I don’t know, but Clifford Bailey’s put himself into the small but intriguing tradition of those artists and illustrators who have; and if the current resurgence of younger musicians fascinated by older music is to have a “court painter”, that painter might just be Clifford Bailey.