William Bailey, American (1930 - )

William Bailey

Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, William Bailey became a painter in styles ranging from abstraction to super-real. He earned his B.F.A. and M.F.A. at Yale University and studied with Josef Albers and also had an Alice Kimball English traveling scholarship.

From 1962 to 1969, he taught at Indiana University, and from 1969, was a professor of art at Yale University.

Bailey has moved from early experiments to the achievements of today, on the impluse of a youthful vocation for drawing, which took him from art school in the Midwest to experiences in the Korean War, to Yale and to studies with Josef Albers. He made friends such as De Kooning and Pollock at Yale. Bailey loved the past, he repeatedly looked at the classics of European painting. The basket of fruit by Caravaggio in the Ambrosian, and the hieratic still-lifes by Zurbaran are often cited in this connection. They are certainly a point of reference in his wide search for a formal vocabulary, together with others in Mediterranean culture.


Bailey’s still-lifes (so often with suggestive Italian titles), are distinct domestic objects arranged frontally on top of a table that coincides with the line of the horizon. They stand against a barely modulated background with the studied conventional equilibrium of sculpture on the pediment of a Greek temple or the sacrality of objects set out on an altar.

Bailey picks up again tenaciously and full of faith the threads of a visual concern, of an aspect of the life of forms, that takes place over a long period of time and that runs as a current beneath the surface of contemporary art, emerging sometimes as a desire for order and formal beauty, even in contemporary expressions seemingly most in revolt against the past. In Bailey this formal aspect manifests itself as an explicit reference to historical sources, mainly in the need to fill the emptiness of space with the fullness of objects and with the fullness of space between objects through the severe dialectic of formal relations.

William Bailey is Professor of Art Emeritus at Yale University. He is a member of The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and a Member of the Board, Smithsonian Archives of American Art from 2000 to the present. He is a trustee for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation from 1970 to the present. Bailey has an extensive exhibition history, and his works appear in numerous public and private collections including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; among many others. Bailey has shown in New York since the late 1960’s. In 2006 a traveling exhibition of works on paper was shown at the Philbroook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK, Alexander Hogue Gallery, University of Tulsa, OK and Wichita Art Museum, KS.

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