To create is not to deform or invent persons and things. It is to tie new relationships between persons and things which are, and as they are.
— Robert Bresson (1)
Sean Bailey’s exhibition Process and Entropy embodies a dialogue between control and resignation. Throughout is an understanding of materiality that is presented as a kind of foreign language that the beholder is urged to see anew.
Bailey’s paintings are small in scale, hung in a line that runs around the unconventional space, connected by a network of blacks, greys, oranges and yellows. His method of making consists of three models; geometric forms, heavy brush strokes and the introduction of the pictorial by way of the photocopy. There is a sincerity in Bailey’s paintings which draws attention to the labour therein. Each gesture is highly considered, combining to form an intense dialogue among the brush strokes.
The flatness in his paintings presents a strong John Nixon influence, in both palette and scale. Nixon has previously mentioned how the scale of his block paintings affect space: “in their smallness they have an intense relationship to the size of the wall and the room.”(2) Consciously or otherwise, Bailey’s small-scale works seem to play with the space in a similar fashion - the body of work neatly occupies the gallery in a way that highlights the absurdity of its six walls.
Seemingly at odds with this influence is Bailey’s use of heavy brush strokes and Hydrostone, focussing instead on the immersive effect of the frame, at times subverting it altogether. Throughout the series the frame is eroded by engulfing it in Hydrostone, or otherwise painted within the image itself.
These brush strokes also highlight the other type of flatness his works incorporate - that of the photocopy. Bailey flattens and compresses his own mark making through reproduction - luscious brush strokes become gritty and eroded. Moreover, reproduction becomes a means by which Bailey examines materiality; photocopied brush strokes are in their turn reworked in paint, creating a dialogue between the idea of gesture and its flattened simulacrum. The language and imagery of the rose is further warped by way of the photocopy; roughening the softness of the petals, stripping them of their vibrant shades before they are finally engulfed in paint.
Bailey’s subjugation of the image, erasure of gesture and desire for control signifies more than mere destruction. Rather, it forms the basis of a dialogue within each painting. “An image must be transformed by contact with other images as is a colour by contact with other colours. A blue is not the same besides a green, a yellow, a red. No art without transformation.”(3) The networks of oranges, yellows and carbon blacks create a tangle of dialogue amongst the sheer number of works within the gallery space. The consistent layering of paint, Hydrostone and photocopy create an anxious body of work that communicates a tug of war between artist and material.
The expanded paintings in Process and Entropy highlight the erosion and tactile play throughout the series. These three dimensional forms presented on a large, raw pine table constructed by the artist have a Lynda Benglis quality to them - formless, textured, occupying the disintegrating boundary between sculpture and painting. These smaller Hydrostone forms contain delicate textures that link them back to their canvas counterparts. What separates them from the rest of this exhibition is an allusion to weight - they hold themselves like a lump in the throat; heavy, anxious and more threatening than any other element in this exhibition, besides, perhaps, the rose thorns hidden under layers of paint.
Process and Entropy highlights the irreversibility of natural processes. Such processes tend towards increasing disorder - entanglement, subversion, erosion, decay. Sean Bailey’s paintings are not merely painted, they are constructed by a singular combination of agency and chance; the product of the artist’s own limitations and the indifference of his material processes. Arranged on the wall they comprise a neat amalgam of the artist’s relationship with space and the resignation that comes from a willingness to surrender control.