Sam Bailey is a London based painter who won the celebrated HIX Award in 2017, after completing his BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins. Since winning the award Bailey has produced a body of work referencing images of activists and protestors based on archival photographs. The artist has focused on the decade of the 1980s, a pre-digital age, and an era that was rife with social and political upheaval and protest.
Though using photography as a starting point, Bailey’s paintings are not photorealistic; instead the handmade is apparent, the paint is allowed to bleed into and run across surfaces, disrupting the source material and creating a sense of interference. Allowing the materials to have a life of their own, moving away from a clean photographic representation, it is Bailey’s hope that they evoke something of the past; a sense of memory and time, rather than being purely photographic.
As the works evolve during the painting process other visual references come into play, contrasting modern culture with the past, also alluding to influences of Western painting. This amalgamation of past and present was important to the subject matter, which includes documentation of protest movements such as Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, where campaigns had to have a stronger physical presence, in contrast to the prevalence of the less-demanding online protest movements seen today.
I’m not looking to make artwork that’s sentimental, or prescriptively saying the past was better than the present. I do have mixed feelings about the internet, it’s a great tool, creatively and for research and learning, but the way it’s with us all the time on mobile devices - meaning we’re essentially on call 24/7 – is not so healthy. There seems to be much more time pressure today […] I wanted to look at protest in the UK at a time when people didn’t have those instant tools, how committed they were and how, for them, time and physical presence over long periods, through occupation, were their weapons.
(Sam Bailey, 2018)
Whilst researching, Bailey came across a lot of contemporary artwork being made digitally, which can inadvertently take on that shared current malaise we can suffer from by using the same technology that’s responsible for it. Bailey wanted to go back to making work where the outcome wasn’t so clear, where human error and the materials used created their own unexpected results.