Atlanta artist wins High acclaim

A black employee of Atlanta's High Museum of Art summed up the magnitude of the new exhibition by artist Radcliffe Bailey.

"He's on the second floor," the man said, smiling and nodding. "That's where they put da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet, Dali."

In the city where he has lived, studied and worked nearly his entire life, Bailey has arrived.

"Radcliffe Bailey: Memory as Medicine," is the first headline exhibition by an Atlanta artist in The High's main gallery. His fellow citizens are celebrating the native son who visited The High as a little boy and dreamed of becoming a great artist.

The exhibition, which runs through Sept. 11, highlights the black artist's experimentation with diverse media, showcasing sculptures, paintings, installations, works-on-paper, glass and found objects.

Bailey's "Between Two Worlds" was one of the inaugural exhibits at Charlotte's Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in 2009. It included an installation of piano keys, as does the Atlanta show.

The High exhibit includes more than 25 works, including new art and some works never before displayed.

"Whenever you're sick, you go to the medicine cabinet," Bailey said. "For me, I go to memory. The idea of memory heals me and takes me to another place."

The show is presented in three main themes: "Water," "Blues" and "Blood."

"Water" features references to the Atlantic Ocean as a site of historical trauma during the slave trade and represents an artistic and spiritual journey.

"Blues" highlights works illustrating the importance of music as a transcendent art form and features the musical influences in Bailey's life, including the jazz artist Sun Ra.

"Blood" focuses on the ideas of ancestry, race, memory, struggle and sacrifice.

Bailey was born in 1968 and graduated from the Atlanta College of Art in 1991.

Though he often changes his materials - from steel and glass, to piano keys, sugar cane, tobacco, sheet music, indigo and even rum - the subject matter is the same and reveals the significant influence of his family.

His grandmother gave him an album of black-and-white family photographs when he was an art student. It became the foundation of much of his work.

Bailey pays tribute to his father, a railroad engineer, with images of train tracks and themes of journey.

"My focus has always been my parents and honoring them in such a way while they're still here," Bailey said. "Thinking about my first experiences at the museum was as a little kid. ... I have a photograph of me and my mom and my aunt in front of the museum. Being here and going to art school here ... In many ways, I feel home."

"One of the things I believe in is making things so personal that they become universal," Bailey said. "I truly believe that my history is your history. It's beyond black and white. It's all different types of people."