17 April 2024

Unknown Landscapes

Becky Bailey’s curious,
invented environments


by Kate Mothes

A series of portals, stairways, halls, and corners beckon us to explore the mysterious spaces in Becky Bailey’s shadowy paintings, which draw us into cave-like entrances or toward glowing corridors rendered on crinkled paper evocative of old maps or antique drawings. The artist taps into our instinctive capacity for curiosity and exploration, suggesting numerous choices in labyrinthine environments or rugged desert regions. “I think about landscapes in the Southwest,” the artist says, “a place I visited often growing up, when my grandparents lived in Santa Fe. The expansive, arid landscape always felt to me full of potential and possibility, as though something unseen were simmering just beneath the surface.”

The region has long held fascination for those who stand in awe of the vast, sea-like expanses or inaccessible canyons. Places like Utah and Arizona are interspersed with imposing or enigmatic geological formations that have long captured the imaginations of those who have seen them or lived among them. Willa Cather, for one, viewed the Southwest, much like her native Nebraska, as a place of “raw incompleteness,” comprised of what seemed less like “finished places” than “things unassembled.” Bailey taps into this sense of in-betweenness and continual transition in her series Unknown Landscapes.

Bailey is interested in the nature of exploration and our constant quest for answers about what lies beyond that doorway or around the next bend in the road. She hones the sensation of curiosity itself, embracing both the wonder and uncertainty of traversing new terrain or trying to comprehend the profundity of time and space.

Geological forms feature prominently in the artist’s work, often abutting geometric walls or partitions that may be human-made. “(My pieces) refer to places that have engendered feelings of mystery and inexplicability in me,” she says. “I look at cave entrances, which are like portals into an unknown, potentially dangerous space. The sheer darkness inside a cave begs the question, ‘What will I find?'”

Tumbled rocks and deep gorges evoke some of the routes that Bailey used to walk in Ithaca, New York, where she once lived. “Water carved out crevices, divots, and almost perfectly circular holes in the rocks there,” she says. “Though I understand scientifically how erosion works, I can’t possibly hold in my mind the huge span of time that process takes, because I will never be able to experience it myself. That confounding length of time is both a pleasure and a mystery.”

Bailey’s work is included in Emerging Artists 2024 online with Dodomu Gallery through May 23. Find more on Bailey’s website and Instagram.

All images © Becky Bailey

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