Texts




Exhibition Text 

By Tom Coggins, October 2017

Lawrence James Bailey’s latest series explores the divide between nature and society by reframing idealised rural areas as bleak, almost dystopic places inhabited by unseen communities. Although Bailey rarely depicts cities in his artwork he constantly hints at their presence through visual cues such as electronic pylons, abandoned cars or empty beer cans which act as stand-ins for negative attributes commonly associated with urban sprawls. By exaggerating these issues to the point of irony Bailey critiques attitudes that champion preindustrial or parochial lifestyles while presenting the modern world as an inescapable reality that deserves consideration rather than scorn.



The Artwork of Lawrence James Bailey: Failed Escapes

By Tom Coggins, December 2015

The relationship between creativity and isolation has long been documented. Those eager to perfect their art have repeatedly fled the confines of society. Many social movements have valorized this flight, glorifying the individual who finds solace in nature. Escape, though, leads individuals down unforeseen paths, where sanctuaries may transform into prisons and utopias into ruin. This desire for escape embodies visual artist Lawrence James Bailey’s work, as he explores the precarious nature of self-imposed isolation.

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, England, but now firmly established in Amsterdam, Bailey’s childhood still informs his work. As a member of the post-Thatcherite generation, he experienced first-hand the collapse of a once prosperous section of society, witnessing the industrial dismantling of Northern England. He explains that, bored with suburban life, he and his friends would escape to the ‘vacant plots of one-time industrial sites.’ Playfully transforming formerly functional machinery and architecture into a vision of wilderness, ready for exploration. This adolescent retreat, Bailey believes, shares many characteristics with historic, and contemporary, movements obsession with an outsider, free from societal pressures.

Seeing parallels between social defiance, childish playfulness and, teenage rebellion, Bailey has recently begun researching the effects that individual history has on collective acts of dissent. Opposition does not occur in a vacuum, but is the result of an individual’s subjective development, drawing upon a feeling of injustice connected to their formative years, often driven by a need to escape an authority seen as restricting their freedom.

* A complete version of this text appears on the Culture Trip website


Urban Fingerprint / Magic Circles

June 2015

A short text written for Amsterdam Museum can be found on the Amsterdam Museum Blog.


Amsterdam's Former Totems of Dissent

January 2015

An illustrated case study examining counter-culture and revolt in 1960's Amsterdam in relation to the city's architecture can be found on the Failed Architecture website.





Load Up On Guns and Provoke Your Friends

December 18th 2014

Load up on guns and bring your friends, it's fun to lose and to pretend sang Curt Cobain in the celebrated Nirvana hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit, from the early 90's. And so it is that i look to both the late twentieth century and failed revolutionary acts in my latest series of ink drawings which have the title Four Modern Utopia's

Following my interest in the Eighteenth Century Romantic art movement and romanticised notions of being an outsider, i began to study communities who purposefully chose to live on the fringes of society. I identified four clear case studies of groups of people who, in the latter part of the twentieth century, closed themselves off from the rest of the world in order to protect themselves against what they considered were the imminent End-of-Days in acts known as Millennialism.

In picturesque views i depicted Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas; Jonestown in Guyana; the Californian mansion of the Heaven's Gate group; and the property of the Weaver family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. All these idyllic locations formed by people whose aim was to be left alone and to live by their own beliefs in a kind of self created rebel Utopia became places of tragedy and criminal events.

But what is the relevance of this work when one lives in one of the most densely populated urban areas of Europe? Is rebellion against a system just pretend and bound to lose? Can one form their own space in the centre of society without suffering the threat of ostracization or worse? Or for a fair and just society is it a requirement of people to relinquish some liberty and part of their own identity in order to keep things peacefully moving along?

I only draw pictures, i don't really have answers. On-the-other-hand, the opening lyrics of Smells Like Teen Spirit summon the spirit of the short-lived, yet far reaching, Dutch anarchist group, the Provo's, who in the September 1966 issue of their magazine did have an answer to the question of failed rebellion: Provo calls for resistance wherever possible. Provo realises that it will lose in the end, but it cannot pass up the chance to make at least one more heartfelt attempt to provoke society.”

And so it is that the teenage rebel, the cult member, the anarchist and the budget-Romantic artist all go hand in hand to intentionally or unintentionally provoke society and awaken it to it's own failings by their own failed causes. Protest and rebellion, even that which fails, creates an undesired sense of rupture in the seams of society and exposes the anxieties and insecurities in those who declare themselves to be the winners. And that is why the outsiders, critics, introverts and non-conformists are vital for a society to develop.

*A version of the above text appeared on the website of Amsterdam's Stadsschouwburg's Salon 



Poor Man's Romanticism


8th December 2014

Exploring perceived private spaces and secluded spots within the contemporary urban landscape allows me to explore notions of alienation and detachment from the here-and-now rooted within the Romantic art movement. I use my artist practice to examine and critique the relevance of looking at the late Eighteenth century movement in light of today's social, political and economic environment and in doing so attempt to define current trends of disfranchisement and nihilism which underpins pop-culture and fringe politics.

My post-industrial, post-modernist landscapes resemble construction sites or waste grounds; anonymous spaces devoid of any identifying time or space, yet populated with utilitarian structures. Spaces which in some way take me back to growing up in the 1980's and early 1990's on the edge of a declining industrial city. The expanding modern suburbs where housing estates were rising and spreading through the surrounding fields and vacant plots of one-time industrial sites were our playground. Exploring construction sites (before the time of sensible health and safety regulations), when the workers had gone home, became an adolescent game of adventure, daring, experimentation, danger,  curiosity and excitement. Discovering secluded places to flirt with new experiences free from the eyes of authority and spoil-sport finger wagging, became a memory which still echoes through my work.

Many of my recent drawings feature Intermodal Containers, which i like to think of as being reappropriated and ubiquitous monuments of our age. On top of their intended use for freight transportation, these standardised modular boxes are regularly used for such purposes as static storageself contained cabinsimprovised blockadesstockadeshideoutsup-cycled luxury homesemergency sheltersportable facilities and pop-up entertainment or leisure hubs. It is this adaptive reuse which interests me more than the containers being symbols of globalization and economic logistics. It is the use of these containers as improvised and instant architectural elements by the likes of libertarian groups, off-grid communities, eco-anarchists and other fringe or underground groups which, for me, connects them to core notions of Romantic art: They are the Hermit's caveisolated cabin or ruined tower of our day.  They are domains to escape the norms of society, order and rationality. Spaces to potentially take refuge or to plot and organise ones own revolution or other subversive activity, shut away from snooping eyes. 

But in this Poor-man's Romanticism which i depict on paper, there is no proper wilderness anymore, just a private shack in a space devoid of character and no visably sublime spectacle. A place where peaceful solitude can turn into isolation and alienation at any time. Hand drawn landscapes which ape corrupted digital images (the newest media archaically translated into the oldest artistic medium) reflect a world slowly succumbing to a resurgence of irrational thought and disorder.

Researching imagery of improvised compounds and remote living spaces is now leading me to investigate contemporary communities who purposefully choose to life on the fringes of society for their beliefs. The homes of religious cults, survivalists, preppers, and militia's are now also providing me with a connections to Romantic thinking.   







Written Statement

22 May 2014

In my most recent drawings and prints the urban landscape provides stimulus which connects memories, imagination, documented historical events and geographical knowledge. The results are images of proposed monuments, ruins, fractured narratives and traces of stories presented in still and virtually empty landscapes. The city thus becomes a reflection of ones mood. Familiar and very public spaces transform into stage sets: backdrops for ones own private ruminations.

It was always my intention to create these images as a kind of a celebration of quiet private times - time for meditations on making sense of surroundings on ones own terms, free from economic or social pressure and therefore owning the conditions of your own situation in an increasingly intrusive society . But despite this i do often see in the work places which are not only absent of unwanted distractions, but also void of life. Humanity seems to have been reduced to small traces of activity left behind. This for me problematizes the romantic notion of shutting oneself off - an inherent act of the creative process. Spend too much time in the quiet recesses of your own mind or in a barren landscape and it might start to resemble something akin to the post-apocalyptical. 
Disorientation and dislocation come hand-in-hand with seeing the city as a place of change, transformation and unpredictability. 

Whereas my drawings and prints use landscape to visualise the joys and inherent pitfalls of being an introvert, my older sculptural work focuses more on characters and objects left behind. My figurative sculpture shows idle human forms caught between moments of revealing and concealing, of being on display and of being caught in an inner world. Other sculptural work and my object based installations consist of objects which become clues to stories, almost like theatrical props filled with either history or potential of future use. Yet like with my works on paper my sculpture is also imbued with this sense of spacial and temporal disorientation, which can have both a tranquilising yet alienating effect.

By bloody-mindedly denying the here and now, by stepping outside the tight constructs of time and space, the hopeful rebel creates an Utopia which negates other people and therefore stands at the edge of an encroaching Dystopia. This is an alienating undercurrent which runs directly through the heart of Romanticism from the paintings of Casper David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner to the films of Werner Herzog.





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