Sean Bailey, Landscapes, catalogue essay by Cait Burgoyne

Like rooms from a memory; nebulous yet absolute, Sean Bailey’s latest solo exhibition Landscapes is a deluge of anamnesis.  The palette is often lurid, reminiscent of Transformer robots, Voltron cartoons and Troll Dolls: archetypes of the 1980’s Australian childhood. But Landscapes feels less sentimental and more a series of abstruse recollections or bad premonitions. And self-referential or not, comprising 21 works, Landscapes evokes ruination on an intimate level. 

The exhibition title Landscapes might suggest illimitable spans, however Bailey’s landscapes feel inescapable, at once noxious and finite. Swathes of flat colour lay against sculptural, painted surfaces and thick linear strokes amass, swirl and disband. There is, at times, a suggestion of terrain and flood maps; crude topographic depictions of land that are unworldly yet familiar. This is desolation in its most lucid state. A reoccurring form, resembling a spill, but spiked and manipulated at its edges, threatens the space it occupies. It is both alive and unhuman. 

This tension between the metaphysical and the familiar may be linked to Bailey’s lifelong affinity with paganism and non-conformist spiritual belief systems. Throughout Bailey’s career, both in music (specifically his solo project, Lakes, formed in 2003) and art, pagan symbolism continues to be a decisive element. Bailey embodies a punk Goth infidel. Titles such as ‘Occult Landscape’, ‘Spell Book’ and ‘Rolling in the Ruin’ allude to his connection to earth religion, reinforcing this narrative. 

The loaded brush is pushed across scabrous surfaces, thwarted by borders and edges. Each painting is constructed through a kind of improvised order and investigates the bounds of the immediate.  Bailey obscures hard edges of painted line, echoing non-representational, esoteric forms found in nature. Each painting challenges the parameters of pictorial space through line and form within the painted surface as material. Paint edges and overflows the framework with a sense of control and dominion, challenging the balance between disorder and rule. 

Bailey’s treatment of medium and surface is mirrored in his approach to the studio. Beginning and completing the body of work for Landscapes between June and August 2019, the artist resolved each work intuitively and rapidly as if to exorcise a memory, feeling or idea immediately, occasionally returning to works the next day to make minor changes. The effect is a body of work both overlaid and ruinous.  

Landscapes mark a significant evolution in Bailey’s narrative. Moving away, perhaps only momentarily, from collage as a medium and hard-edged geometric shapes, this is Sean Bailey’s most provocative oeuvre yet.