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“Her Boots”

September 19, 2011

“Her Boots.” That’s how artist Bailey Escapule’s show at the library begins—an oil painting of a young girl in red boots. It’s a recognizable if not familiar scene to most of us.

Then, there’s a portrait called “Goat Seller” followed by “Vietnam Blue.” These are perhaps less familiar for being images from distant lands. However, we know the faces well—they are ours.

Bailey has brought back fascinating faces from many parts of the world. His show has portraits such as “Oaxaca Red” from Mexico, “Menakshee” from India, “Ankor Urchin” from Cambodia, “Vietnam Gold.”

Remarkable to me is that his beautiful, careful colors all come from a palette of just a few colors. I understand the theory, of course, but in practice to produce such a rich variety of hues this way is an impressive skill.

His portraits are often more than faces. “Turkey To Go,” for example, is a portrait of a person, of a turkey, and of a town. The setting of a portrait can be as compelling as the figure.

It makes sense to me that Bailey is an excellent landscape painter, too. What is a landscape but a portrait? And in Bailey’s intriguing faces, we could easily say a portrait is also a landscape.

Both require sensitivity to shape, color, and shadow. “Taos Ranch” is a portrait in New Mexico colors. “San Angel Market” is a portrait but also an urban landscape.

Perhaps it makes sense that Bailey is a birdwatcher, too. The painting “Wood Duck” is a lovely portrait, but it’s also a landscape. It feels as if one is close to the ground, peering through the reeds. A landscape doesn’t have to be a wide vista taking in the horizon.

There are other bird portraits in the show: “Chicken Dinner” and “Sandhill Cranes.” And there’s a marvelous little portrait of a burro.

The burro demonstrates the importance of the eyes and the landscape around them. The face is a landscape that leads to the eyes.

You might remember in Tom Robbins’ “Skinny Legs and All” how one character finally got to witness the ultimate Middle Eastern erotic strip-tease dance he’d long heard about … and only with the last veil were the eyes revealed.

Bailey is a marvelous sculptor, and I think this native ability shows in his portraits.

Many people have seen his sculpture without realizing it. He made the bronze sculpture of Dr. Leonardi that stands outside the hospital. I can’t say it’s typical, since I’ve seen all manner and sizes of sculpture by Bailey in different materials.

But all of them show the attention he brings to a subject. Attention to detail and skill in reproducing it are not in themselves sufficient. Otherwise, a camera would be enough, and we’d all be artists. How many of your friends’ photos really move you?

The delight in a portrait or landscape is had through the filter of the artist’s awareness. Two artists will not paint the same face identically. Even two hyper-realists won’t.

The portrait “Oaxacan Gent” is a perfect example of Bailey’s skills—the eyes and smile are as subtly done as the perfect colors in the gentleman’s hat.

Not only that, Bailey happens to work at the library on weekends. Stop by to see the show and to see the artist at work. So to speak.

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