Janis Karam Gallo 2003


Exhibition Essay from Passion for the Ineffable at the Dunedin Fine Art Center
May 2, 2003 – June 29, 2003

John Bailly embraces the suggestion of French philosopher Jacques Derrida that one is more of a conduit than a person.  This notion provides a pathway through the complex labyrinth of Bailly’s visual discourse.  The power of the human spirit, collective experience and the struggles of humanity collide in his artwork.  Embracing history, religion, culture, random images and events, Bailly channels the past into the present.

Born in Buckinghamshire, England, raised in Paris, Aix-les-Bains, Lyon, France, and in Long Island, New York, Bailly now resides in Miami.  The influence of how and where he has lived and his heterogeneous interests are the stimulus for his work, which is rooted in an intellectual discourse about larger questions in life.  Among the endless reservoir of the visual information he draws on, his iconography includes religious symbols, maps, social and political events, inspirational champions, and classical and modern art.  He is capable of combining unrelated images that result in homogeneous compositions where the viewer is compelled to engage in a seemingly indecipherable narrative.  His practiced and daring brush furthers this experience.  Bailly’s deft draftsmanship enables the extraordinary expressionism of his work.  Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, (1999-2002) sets the stage for appreciating his aptitude and is the genesis of the work he has produced since 2000.  As random as his combination of imagery appears, there are those that Bailly repeats, particularly symbols that recall the evolution of human anguish, revolution, war and uprisings.  Those in Book of the Year, 1968 (2002) and Umkhonto we Sizwe (2002), maintain the gravity of their original references and inspire new meaning in current social and political climates.  In Metropolitan Transit (2002), the density and layering of image and paint heightens.  The figuration lies beneath a lush tactile surface and his renderings peer through physical and expressive density ─ it becomes the perfect synthesis of thought and process.

All of the dynamics in Bailly’s work seem to be born out of struggle and conflict.  “Events certainly have a cause and effect, but I see no order or reason to their actions.  There is no ultimate lesson or truth to the random actions in a chaotic world,” reflects Bailly.  The Encyclopedia series is an ongoing expression of this quandary.  Bailly has produced 100 drawings thus far that address the juxtaposition of unrelated events.  His focus on this project is ardent.  They are deserving of a separate dialogue, as a separate forum, but are also significant here as a compilation and reference to images that inhabit the larger works.  In the tangible world of all this work Bailly successfully contains the fragments of discordant information and we catch site of the struggle for meaning.

Janice Karam Gallo is an independent curator based in Dunedin.  This essay originally featured in the catalogue for the exhibition Passion for the Ineffable at the Dunedin Fine Art Center in 2002.

04 September 2022

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