I first discovered Bailey because of his paintings of women from the waist down (I couldn’t help but look), but I was ultimately drawn in by combination of birds, beasts, lollipops and ladies.
Eric Bailey’s work is sexy. It’s also sweet. These qualities exist above and below the surface. Flip through his portfolio and you’ll mostly find slightly dressed women, some ‘wild’ animals and lots of pastry. Given the simple metaphoric quality attributed to these items, especially when used together, it might be easy to write Eric Bailey off. Nice pictures, sexy ladies, big cats, cupcakes. However, I invite you to join me and look a little bit deeper.
Bailey’s work is classical in execution: oil paint applied in generous brush strokes on large canvas. His settings are also quite classical. Some call his work glamourous, with their backdrops of expensive wallpaper and baroque chairs. Bailey’s work feels like the someone turned the 18th century dioramas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art into something far more lascivious. His girls are painterly, but still realistique. The paintings are opulent and the bodies liquid.
Even with his lavish backgrounds and paint style, there is an urban element to his work. Bailey says he finds his inspiration in where “the natural meets the modern.” However, I find that it isn’t so much a meeting, but a melding of the worlds. The concept of otherness and exoticism is something the viewer must interpret from real world knowledge, not artistic construction. The animals, women and pastries are all part of the same story, the same moment. The viewer knows that the lynx is not a house cat, the women on the settee balancing their cotton candy would probably disagree.
There are non-obvious dynamics between sweets, girls and animals. In “Crave,” Bailey paints a pedestal-seated girl holding a roses and white tiered cake. A leering wolf looks up at her. While this could easily be read as a retelling off Red Riding Hood, my eyes drift to the wolf skin cap upon the woman’s head. Who is craving who in this portrait? Where does the power really lie? Danger and sugar, balance and control. There is also a humor in these works that should not go unappreciated.
I like to think of San Francisco as a city where sex drips off of everything. Not in a crude way that makes you want to watch your step, but in an excited way that makes you always want to look over your shoulder and wink. In a way, I think that Bay Area-based Bailey is painting *this* San Francsico. In stories of the city by the bay, we hear quite often about the gingerbread painted ladies. Quite literally, here they are: the sweets are vibrant, and the ladies, painted, both in subject and form. His girls are almost glossy in their painted light, like candy, wrapped in plastic, painted thickly on the canvas. It’s the cake and sweets that have body. I’m almost certain I could knock someone out with that cotton candy, but that a Bailey woman would melt on my tongue like sugar.
Originally posted July 9, 2012