Clayton Bailey

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Clayton Bailey Biography

Although primarily identified with the Bay Area, Clayton Bailey was born in Antigo, WI, and grew up in the Midwest. He was interested in science and chemistry and entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1957 in pre-pharmacy, at the same time working in a drug store near the campus. A year later, he married his wife, Betty. Bailey says that the success of some cartoons he drew for a campus magazine and the lack of success he had in math convinced him to drop his plans to be a pharmacist and to pursue art studies instead, signing up for a pottery class.

In 1963 Bailey began teaching at Wisconsin State University Whitewater, where he stayed until 1967. He left to join Francis Coelho at the University of South Dakota to help in starting a new art department. For a period that winter he also taught at the University of California-Davis, replacing Robert Arneson who was on a leave of absence, and he was introduced to the Funk artists working in the Bay area. When the program at South Dakota was deemed too revolutionary and Coelho fired, most of the faculty left, and Bailey and his family decided to move to California, settling in the area around Crockett on the Carquinez Strait. They set up a live-in studio in a vacant café, and Bailey began looking for a teaching position. His first interview at California State University-Hayward was his last one. He was offered a part-time position, which he accepted, and which became a tenure track appointment in the department in 1970. That year he moved his home and studio to rural Port Costa, CA, where fellow artist Roy deForest was his neighbor. Bailey remained as a professor at the university until his retirement in 1996, serving as chairman from 1984-1987; since his retirement, he has been professor emeritus of ceramics.

West Coast Funk emerged out of the Bay area in the 1960s and combined humor, satire, irreverence, and often social and political critique, brashly pushing the limits of traditional ceramic art. Of the University of California-Davis artists who comprised this group, Bailey is “…credited as being the zaniest.”2 In addition to his imaginative ceramics, some classified as “Kinetic Ceramics” as they move or emit noises (burping bowls and busts), he works with metal sculpture and found objects, creating a series of robots, many life-size, and sculptural ray guns. His ceramic sculptures are both weird and compelling and include an entire museum of skeletons of mythical animals, his “Kaolithic Wonders,” overseen by one of his alter egos, Dr. Gladstone; large humorous figures and animals; “Mad Dr.‟s Laboratory;” the list goes on. His fertile imagination, expressed in his art, seems to have no bounds.

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