Richmond Art Center Richmond Art Center

Remembering Clayton Bailey (1939-2020)

We are saddened by the death of artist Clayton Bailey on Saturday, June 6 at age 81. Known for his innovative and irreverent ceramic and metal sculpture, Bailey was a lead figure in the Funk Art and Nut Art movements. He lived in Port Costa for many years, and from 2013 until recently ran the Bailey Art Museum in Crockett.

Read Clayton Bailey’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle

Visit Bailey’s website for some insight into his eccentric world

Bailey first exhibited at Richmond Art Center in a group show in 1970. He went on to be included in exhibitions every decade at RAC until 2009, when he participated in a two-person show with his wife, Betty Bailey, called Robots & Watercolors. This exhibition was organized by Richmond-artist John Wehrle and featured over thirty of Bailey’s metal robot sculptures displayed beside Betty’s whimsical watercolor paintings. Betty died in 2019. 

A Statement by John Wehrle

In art and life Clayton Bailey was generous to a fault. His eccentric creations, whether ceramic or metal, were always exquisitely crafted and whimsically logical.

Clayton’s work personified a serious quirkiness that was emblematic of a rich vein of irreverent humor that found fertile ground in Northern California.

I first became aware of Clayton’s work viewing Dr.Gladstone’s ceramic discoveries at the de Young in 1975. I was working under the CETA program and painting my first mural there. The elaborate comic nature of Clayton’s installation was delightful and memorable.

Years later, our artistic paths crossed again when Jeff Nathanson included Clayton and myself, along with other Contra Costa artists in the introductory North by Northwest show at Richmond Art Center.

For RAC’s 50th anniversary exhibition in 1996, Jeff commissioned Clayton to make a commemorative edition of “Dr. Gladstone’s Snake Oil” ceramic jugs as a part of the celebration. I still treasure mine. 

Dr. Gladstone’s Snake Oil by Clayton Bailey

And Clayton and I both owned 1950 Bullet Nose Studebakers, albeit at different stages of our lives. 

So it was an honor and a privilege when Clayton agreed to exhibit his robots along with Betty’s drawings at RAC in 2009.

Robots and Watercolors, Richmond Art Center, 2009

Clayton’s robots exist in a world, inspired by Captain Marvel and Studebakers, where a brighter future of robot butlers is just around the corner. In today’s world of plastic and pixels these robots propel a metal flea market past into the future. The pleasure of Clayton’s work lies in the recognition of the alternator or the teapot transformed into an anthropomorphic dog or tipsy ballerina. They ultimately speak as much to the human condition as to the world of technological wonders.

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