William Bailey ’55 ART ’57, the Kingman Brewster professor emeritus of art, is the focus of the Yale University Art Gallery’s new exhibition “William Bailey: Looking through Time.” The show examines the trajectory of Bailey’s career and pays special attention to his still-life oil paintings.

“The emphasis in this installation is on groups of objects that speak to different sides of [Bailey’s] work — expression, place, color, formal relationships.” said Mark D. Mitchell, the Holcombe T. Green curator of American paintings and sculpture.

Mitchell added that the exhibit strives to “bring forward the different facets [of Bailey’s work] so that [visitors] have the opportunity to see the richness of his practice.” He noted that the exhibit features additional works such as drawings, prints and works on paper, as they reveal insights into the way Bailey conceived of the objects he painted and enable a more holistic understanding of his oil paintings.

Before teaching at Yale, Bailey was a student at the Yale School of Art, where he developed his artistic vision through his experimentations with color and form as well as his time studying under Josef Albers. According to Stephanie Wiles, the YUAG’s Henry J. Heinz II director, Albers’ influence is prominent in Bailey’s work. She likened the “push and pull” between depth and surface in one of his paintings to the way Albers taught and practiced his own art.

Upon his graduation in 1957, Bailey was immediately offered a position as a professor and continued to teach until his retirement in 1995.

“Bailey is greatly admired by artists and students whose work looks nothing like his,” said Mitchell. “There’s something very generous about his way of teaching — he doesn’t want students to work like he does, but develop their own visions, the way he did.”

The exhibition records Bailey’s work as a figurative and representational artist. Mitchell noted that Bailey’s style is not realistic: He does not refer to real-life objects when creating his paintings. Rather he uses his imagination to simultaneously represent and transform the objects he knows.

Mitchell described Bailey’s style of work as “empirical,” or focused on the foundational level of artistic practice in terms of seeing, looking and portraying color and form.

“It’s similar to the way in which poetry has great discipline and rules — they can be constraining or they can be quite liberating — and I think he has found the liberation in a very constrained set of practices,” said Mitchell in reference to Bailey’s artistic style.

Wiles noted the importance of recognizing Bailey’s experience as both a Yale alum and a faculty member. She added that Bailey had a “deep connection” with the YUAG and used the collection extensively in his teachings.

Due to Bailey’s relationship with the YUAG, the idea of a project highlighting his work had been “in the air” for a long time, according to Mitchell. He added that Bailey “guided” the selections for the installation by picking out works that were significant to him and his growth as an artist.

Mitchell said that because Bailey “practically spent his whole life” at Yale, recognizing his impact through this exhibition was “tremendously significant.”

“[Bailey’s work] invites us to look closely and to explore meaning. We are so distracted and so rushed — this exhibition in particular invites us to really linger, look and reconnect with how we experience the world around us,” Mitchell said.

“William Bailey: Looking through Time” will remain on view until Jan. 5, 2020.

Freya Savla | freya.savla@yale.edu