By Lisa Shrewsberry
How much do Beckley photographer Ron Bailey and his wife, Patricia, love Italy? Molto, you might say.
“The food, the culture, the art. Other than the politics, there’s not much about Italy we don’t enjoy,” Bailey reveals.
Bailey, vice president of Beckley Art Group, was enamored with Italy from a high school trip, a desire that, like his love for the lens, he returned to in adulthood.
“My passion for photography started in elementary school with pinhole cameras and science projects.”
While the treasurer/director of operations for Mabscott Supply all but abandoned his art in college to indulge the left half of his brain, a 2006 return trip to Italy energized him right round again with breathtaking landscapes and contemplative cityscapes, his favorite photography subjects.
He and Patricia returned to Italy in 2012, encountering once more the expected cultural feast for their bodies and souls. Globetrotting has proven an inspiring source of fuel for Bailey’s avocation.
In the upcoming Beckley Art Group exhibit “Duos,” opening Friday at the Cynthia Bickey Art Gallery, Bailey pairs images from his 2012 trip to Siena, Italy. As chairman for the exhibit, he issued a challenge to fellow Beckley Art Group members, artists in media of all kinds, to find commonality or unifying elements within their original works and to submit them by twos.
Bailey was impressed by an interview he read with a renowned contemporary arts curator who commented that he wanted the pieces of a particular exhibit to “have conversations with one another.”
Artistic pieces that put their heads together were exactly what Bailey sought for the Duos exhibit.
“Member exhibits are often ‘untethered.’ Sometimes, you get a lot of work that really doesn’t have cohesion. I didn’t want to limit content, but I did want to give structure to this exhibit.
“Some are very literal in their interpretation of the theme and some are not,” explains Bailey. While connections within certain submissions of Duos will be obvious, others seek to reveal the inner thinker — asking visiting eyes to find the same connection the artist found, to feel what he or she also felt for a moment in time.
Awe is one feeling produced by Bailey’s dual Italian cityscapes, entitled “Rooftops” from his series “Silenzi” (Italian for silences), which resonates beyond rooflines. A strange sense of familiarity is another.
“For me, both images represent moments of absolute calm and peace.”
There’s the hustle and bustle of activity in the Italian city that turns quickly, unexpectedly, to brief moments of silence.
“Both pictures are devoid of people,” Bailey points out. “Even in the midst of cacophony are little bubbles of absolute, almost meditative silence.
“When you see a cityscape from medieval times, the similarity to what you see even in a city like Beckley is pretty amazing.”
Bailey’s hosts, he observed while in Siena, discussed with chagrin their familiar surroundings, ones viewed by others as paradise, much as denizens here are their own worst critics. “They see their city with flaws and issues, just like we see our own hometown.”
Bailey also submitted two more pairings from his “Feeding the Machine” series, a stark visual commentary on the Industrial Revolution, of its accomplishments past and what it has left behind. Each entry prompts the observer to draw parallels to their own cities, their own experiences.
Two by two, the depth and diversity of local art marks the early entries of this non-juried and eclectic member exhibit. Other featured artists willing to explore their worlds and find quiet common ground include photographer Ed Rehbein, who sees harmony in macroscopic observations of nature’s wildflowers; Gerry Birdsong’s postmodernist portraiture; and Karen Lilly’s mixed media ruminations on Edgar Allen Poe.
Around 50 different artists are expected to display for the exhibit.
Featured artists and members extend open invitation to those within the public who have yet to find a reason to visit the gallery supporting local artists and the local art scene. If you’ve ever traveled to another location enough to envy their arts presence, this is one example of where the momentum for those types of achievements begin.
“When I travel, I’m really inspired by places with vibrant arts cultures. It takes a spark, an investment, to develop that and I am hoping an exhibit like this will encourage not only our patrons and sponsors, but patrons of the arts and the public to come and see. Maybe it will encourage people to start their own personal collection of local art,” states Bailey.
All art on display within the exhibit is for sale, he adds, a studio-to-home movement all members are passionate about propelling forward.
“I hope that events like this can help raise interest in the arts in our community and deepen our appreciation for the local talent we have.”