James W. Bailey

Burned Love Letter
© 2018 James W. Bailey

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"WIND PAINTING" - Artist Statement

"Wind Painting" is a visual arts language of expression that actually collaborates with nature to reveal the naturalistic artistic creativity inherent in the random acts of design caused by seasonal weather patterns. For example, the way a mass snowfall changes the design, appearance and function of a street.

In my home state of Mississippi there is an ancient rural African-American tradition and practice know as bottle trees. African slaves imported the tradition of placing colorful bottles at the ends of branches of crepe myrtles. They believed that blue and green glass would lure evil spirits away from their homes and trap them inside the bottles. When I was a child I used to visit this elderly black farmer who lived down the road from my grandfather’s farm in Mississippi. He had a huge bottle tree in his front yard. My grandfather and I would sit on this man’s front porch in the evening and he would tell us ghost stories. When the wind would blow strongly you could hear this eerie haunting sound whistling through the bottles of his bottle tree. This very old man, whose father was a former slave in the Mississippi Delta, used to tell me that the whistling sound was the moaning of the souls of dead slaves trying to make their way back home to Africa. Eudora Welty writes about the practice of the bottle tree in her short story, "Livvie". "Wind Painting" is my homage to this uniquely southern tradition.


The path to my art began when I was 11 years old. I witnessed a farmhouse burn down on property near my grandfather’s farm in Mississippi. I assisted in the effort to rescue items from the fire. I managed to save from the burning house a smoldering wooden box that contained a collection of scorched and burned family photographs. I extinguished the fire from the photographs and spread them out on the ground and arranged them in a square, one next to another. It was the most haunting thing I have every seen. The charred remains of this image history of a whole family. Burned remnants of mythology. Blackened eyes peering behind charcoal. Smokey residue smeared over lost memories. I have never forgotten the image of the collage I created that day. There is no one photograph that could ever be taken that could convey the emotional impact of that collage that lay on ground before me as a child. I am constantly trying to recreate some semblance of that image in my work.

"Rough Edge Photography" is my attempt to challenge the seemingly exhausted visual arts vocabulary that has been developed to describe the state of the modern image. I enjoy the possibilities of creating random acts of art by subverting the static image through the physical scarring, tearing and burning of the negative and the print. I try to achieve a new image by inverting the stereotypes of expectations for photography. I like unfocused shoot-from-the-hip-taken-on-the-fly images photographed by damaged cameras with scratched lens and then violently manipulating, tearing and altering my work product. I combine multiple variations of images and process to achieve a hyper activity of assimilation. It is my belief that photography has historically only touched on the surface of what is seen by the eye and the mind. I hope to concretize through my art a multi-dimensional aspect of perception that conveys the shock of the chaos of movement of events through time. Nothing thrills me more than to have a person view my work and say, “I wonder how he created that? Is that a photograph or what?” A melted negative is a beautiful image to me. I want to twist photography to the very edge of its limitations in order to explore the un-tapped visual senses that exist at the core of all our misperceptions.
Studios of James W. Bailey

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