“Everyone should own a Beezy Bailey.” David Bowie
High praise indeed from the late great musician and artistic collaborator of the South African artist Beezy Bailey. After meeting in South Africa in the mid 1990s, David Bowie made at least 50 paintings with Beezy while recording his album Outside in New York. If owning a painting or sculpture by Mr. Bailey isn’t a possibility, seeing his colorful, energetic work certainly is, in two exhibitions organised by Everard Read gallery.
More than 30 pieces are on show at Everard Read’s London gallery in Chelsea and in a site-specific exhibition at Boughton House, a glorious historic home in Northamptonshire. The exhibition provides a rare opportunity for public visits. Viewing the art, along with house tours and exploring the gardens is currently possible at Boughton but it’s not regularly accessible like other stately homes.
Boughton House, the historic seat of the Buccleuch family, is one of Britain’s finest homes, part of an 11,000-acre estate in Northamptonshire. Boughton is one of the few surviving calendar houses in the UK, featuring 7 courtyards, 12 entrances, 52 chimneys and 365 windows. Beezy Bailey has created a strong body of new work, inspired by the history, architecture, collections and gardens of Boughton House. The treasures inside the house are impressive, including an outstanding art collection, with works by El Greco, Van Dyck and Gainsborough, French furniture by the master cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle, alongside delicate Sèvres porcelain, Mortlake tapestries and 16th-century rugs from the Middle East. Portraits of famous kings and queens, all relatives of the Buccleuch family, cover the walls. Anyone who has the chance to tour the house will also see the remarkable full sized Georgian Chinoiserie tea pavilion, the earliest snooker table in Europe and beautifully preserved Baroque state rooms (built to impress the 17th-century King and Queen, William and Mary).
Beezy Bailey explored all of these wonderful heirlooms on recent stays as the guest of the current Duke Richard, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch. The Duke is keen to ensure that Boughton House continues to be the setting for lively, artistic projects including art and music. The portraits of Jane Seymour and a young Queen Elizabeth appear in Beezy’s surrealistic paintings, as do the florals depicted in the fabrics in the Buccleuch family portraits, the rolling grounds of the estate as well as the architecture of and the eclectic objects in the house. The flying forms, animals and dancing kings and queens which have long been the signature of Beezy’s work are in these new works directly responding to the interior and collection at Boughton.
Like most artists Beezy Bailey has been inspired by other artists who came before him, including Andy Warhol who he met at Warhol’s factory (along with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat) in the 1980s. Meeting these American artists cemented Beezy’s determination to be an artist and as he wanted to be a properly trained, he went to a traditional art school in London, the prestigious Byam Shaw School of Art where he learned to draw.
Beezy Bailey is an artist who has always thrived when collaborating with other creatives. He credits South African artist Nelson Makuba with teaching him to carve in wood and outdoors at Boughton are Beezy’s wonderful carved wooden, painted sculptures of an African king and queen. And in addition to making paintings with David Bowie (who he remained in contact with until Bowie’s death in 2016), he has worked with Bowie’s friend and fellow musician Brian Eno and with Dave Matthews. In fact, Beezy’s art is deeply connected to music and his artworks explore the “connection between sound and vision.” He reminds us that the painter Wassily Kandinsky viewed music as the supreme form of abstract art and believed his paintings could communicate certain sounds. “Color is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords” Kandinsky claimed.
Brian Eno describes Beezy Bailey’s work very well: “he cooks up new worlds, tiny and huge, peopled by bird-women, snake-men, lizard children, and animated vegetables, bursting with bright new music. He makes African jazz in paint, garish as the midday sun, dark as the deepest night.” The two artists created music to accompany the paintings they made for their exhibition, ‘The Sound of Creation’ at the Venice Biennale in 2015.
The works at Boughton House and in the London gallery are eclectic, both in themes and materials used, which include enamel, oil and house paint and varnishes. The paintings show figures within imaginary landscapes yet there is a strong link to Beezy’s South African heritage with near extinct African animals in the paintings and a common motif is spheres representing fallen angels. These fallen angels can be seen as representative of the country Beezy came from as well as of those whose actions have contributed to the problems of our planet as a whole. These fallen angels are transformed into bronze sculptural works reminiscent of Alberto Giacometti, including the upside down angel sculpture on the lawn, in a brilliant Yves Klein blue. Beezy Bailey describes his art as “balm for a mad world” and we can all use some of that.
Beezy Bailey ‘Let There be Light’ at Boughton House, Kettering, Northamptonshire NN14 1BJ and at Everard Read gallery, London until 31 May 2022. The next public open day at Boughton, including the exhibition in the house is Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd May, 1pm-5pm. Outdoor, the bronze sculptures within the Gardens, Parkland and Landscape can be viewed on Mondays and Tuesdays in May, 1pm-4pm.