Art as muti: Print and paint

Beezy Bailey’s latest exhibition is a surprising insight into an unexpected inner world.

Many know the artist as a controversial figure, an outspoken character who has never been scared to poke fun at the stuffy art world’s sacred cows.

His most famous stunt, the creation of a black female alter ego, Joyce Ntobe, whose artworks were accepted by the South African National Gallery while those produced under his own name were rejected, left many politically correct gallerists blushing.

So what is his latest work about?

In the collection of prints, one finds rabbits playing in surreal landscapes, yellow cats floating in a pink sky filled with shooting stars, and a blue Jesus who dances the Hava Nagila.

“I have painted traditional landscapes before, and people are often surprised by that,” says Bailey. “These landscapes have informed these surreal ones. The motifs can be found throughout. It’s a sort of ‘Beezy language’, and a look at ‘Beezy World'”.

Subject matter aside, it is also interesting that an artist who has used performance, paint and sculpture to get his point across would now turn to printmaking. Many people see prints as an “easy” form of art making, the cheaper prices that galleries sell them at reflecting the idea that is an art form that requires less time and commitment from the artist.

For Bailey, though, printmaking is another medium of self-expression, one that sits well next to his painted and sculptural work.

“Printmaking has always been an important part of my art. Sculpture, painting and printmaking all inform one another. If one thinks about Gerhard Richter, and his great wadges of paint, there is a sculptural quality. When one thinks about the action of an angle grinder on a sheet of masonite, print and sculpture are similar physical actions. The processes blur”.

And the works inform each other through their subject matter too. His “Dancing Jesus” that appears in these printed works has also been depicted in sculpture and performance.

Bailey is insistent on the difference between art prints, that are limited and unique, and prints that are mass-produced, more like “posters”, and also points out that it is important that there is art that is more accessible to wider audience.

That non-elitist approach fits well with Bailey’s body of work. But where has political Beezy gone?

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to be negative,” he says. “It is difficult to be positive. This is not propaganda. Art is my muti.

“Art can be so elitist and alienating. I want to make art that people can enjoy, regardless of who they are.”

Works on Paper shows at the João Ferreira Gallery in Cape Town until September 4 2010.

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Lisa Van Wyk
Lisa van Wyk is the arts editor, which somehow justifies her looking at pretty pictures all day, reading cool art and culture blogs and having the messiest desk in the office. She likes people who share her passion for art, music, food, wine, travel and all things Turkish. She can't ride a bike, but she can read ancient languages and totally understands the offside rule.

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