Ascents and Echoes

Radcliffe Bailey

Jack Shainman Gallery 
November 4 - December 18 

When we speak of Afrosurrealism we are speaking of the language of Black dreamscapes and per Larry Neal, ‘the hoodoo hollering of bebop ghosts’ which provide those dreams their hainted and haunted scores. Those dreamscapes are also containment vessels for those flashes of the spirit we call ‘race memories’— quantum visual projections flush with unpacked ephemera and epistemological links to the vast continuum of African and Afrodiasporic signifiers and significations. Here is where Black synesthesia occurs in epic proportions: sounds begat smells stinking deep according to James Brown, sights have transformed into felt textures, scents suddenly possess the capacity to sang and swang, a kiss may haul off and hitcha with the ruckus of scratch DJ battles, culinary experiences may erupt into R&B operas and free jazz symphonies, drum beats and dope rhymes generate a multitude of jitterbugging flavors.

  If you are Black and historically conscious and spiritually attuned working the realm of the visual and material as Radcliffe Bailey does, then you are blessed to have within your Black Interior’s empire of the senses a whirlwind of implosive energies and potentialities at your imagineering disposal. A source point for abstract narrative construction as vast and timeless as that found in the collective recorded canons of Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, and Chaka Khan.

      Bruh Bailey, as a miner and metaphor runner of Black visuality understands as those musical virtuosos do that one does not move backwards or forwards in the referential and reverential fields of Black dreamscapes but spreads ones being across that continuum multidirectional swirl of infinite galactic expansions in pursuit of expositional slivers and shouts of ancestral revelation, audacious transgenerational witnessing and confessional starmapping enlightenment.

     About his markings and makings and lean into the ineffable through the material, Bailey has said: “My practice has remained consistent throughout the years. As I’ve always had one foot in the past, I’ve always had one foot in the present. The present in the sense that I explore entities that are very surreal, such as the surreal concepts that we are dealing with today politically, but also spiritually, for me. I’m trying to understand that faith is not necessarily tangible. My practice today is really in that space.”

The technologies of DNA testing have come to inform the artist’s work as indelibly as memories of his grandmother working up patinas to bring out the radiance on her antique furniture collection. A body of work from the early 2000s included figures and equations extracted from the artist’s genetic code. More contemporary work, like Upwards, finds alignment with Central African Kongo culture’s transdimensional cosmogram — an eternity symbol which Bailey feels connected to not only metaphysically but through his  family’s self-liberating bloodline: “The Kongo cosmogram is a crossroads between North, South, East and West… Upwardsinquires into travel… There are counterclockwise traces as in the Kongo cosmogram, and also references to my family members migrating from the South to the North  as part of the Underground Railroad. The piece also deals with ascension and travel upwards in a surreal way.”

The liminal and spiritual presence of ancient and futuristic forces lurking in the background radiation of Bailey’s work ultimately brings grand luminosity to the Afrosurrealist and Afrodiasporic power sources aswirl in his creations.

-Greg Tate, 2021