Artist Radcliffe Bailey, forty-two, is as close to a celebrity as the Atlanta art scene gets, with his iconic dandyish fedoras and glamorous it-coupledom with writer and TV soap star wife, Victoria Rowell. Even the High Museum—not known for consistently exhibiting local talent—is acknowledging his achievements, staging a major survey of his work, Memory as Medicine (through September 11). Bailey’s inspirations play the field, from sculptor Martin Puryear to Miles Davis. His mixed-media mash-ups of vintage photos, bright slashes of color, and found objects—tobacco leaves, sugarcane, rum bottles—suggest a Deep South Robert Rauschenberg channeling the gravitas of black history.
On a one to ten scale, how excited are you about your show? Eleven.
Anything that makes you nervous about a showing in front of your hometown crowd? Yeah. Hometown is more critical. [Some locals disapprove of the High having Bailey serve on the board of directors while the focus of a solo show.]
Explain the title: Memory as Medicine. You go to the medicine cabinet to take [something] that will make you feel better. If anything, my memory has always been my medicine.
What one piece explains what you are about? Windward Coast, which is 300 or 400 sets of piano keys that turn in the waves. There’s a head in the center. You could think that person is in trouble in the middle of the sea. But at the same time, there’s a certain calm about realizing where you are within the world, that the world is very big and you’re very small.
You may be the most successful visual artist in Atlanta. Advice for the whippersnappers? Work hard. Question. Travel.
How do you want to be remembered? I want to make things that are not about me, but more about being human.