Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1930, Bailey had a early talent for drawing and had the opportunity to study with Josef Albers at Yale University. Known for his beautiful still-life paintings, Bailey’s objects are in a shallow spaces against a flat backgrounds of color, which give them a very modern look.
From 1962 to 1969, he taught at Indiana University. In 1969, William H. Bailey was professor of art at Yale University. His work is included in the collections of the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Joseph Hirshhorn Muesum. He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
The following was written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California:
Truly original art is often praised in its own time with a kind of mis-perception or misunderstanding of its deep qualities. William Bailey is frequently characterized by curators, reviewers and even by some of his collectors as one of the country’s leading realists. Yet his remarkable still lifes and nudes, distinguished by an unmistakable style and a characteristic meditative searching for paricular moments of aesthetic challenge, are in fact more attuned to modernist concerns than to mere recording of contemporary urban life.
From the very beginning Bailey’s still lifes were “abstract” in several ways. They have never been done from an array of objects on a tabletop in the studio, but are composed on the canvas itself. It is not the banal literal presence of a set of objects that these paintings call up, but rather their metaphoric activity-their figurativeness that no mere rendering, however stylish, mannered or elegant, could establish. Bailey prefers the term figurative rather than realistic, which he feels is too easily going back to illustration.
Modest in scale and completely unrhetorical, his pictures seem European – the work, perhaps, of a less mature Balthus, minus the overtones of perverse eroticism. Their strength lies partly in the extreme discipline of organization; he is a perfectionist.
Sources include: An Extreme and Abstract Clarity by John Hollander, Artnews magazine
Time magazine, January 31, 1972
William Bailey, An American Classic by Hilton Kramer, Art & Antiques