Art and Design alumna Alex Bailey ‘14 first stepped onto USI’s campus as a student in 2010. Planning ahead and making deliberate class choices allowed her to graduate within four years. Alex mentions, “I was very focused and made it a point to be in and out in those four years...” which is no small feat, especially considering her choice to change majors twice in that time. Alex started her college career as an Art major but the mounting cost of supplies was a bit daunting. She found a (temporary) home as a major in the Psychology department before realizing that classwork was not where her heart was. “I wanted to be back in the studio... I missed that a lot, so I switched my major back to Art.”
The first time she picked up clay as a college student was not until her second year. “I never took classes in high school and I never took private lessons,” Alex adds, making this her first real foray into clay. Her fellow art students and the ceramics teacher, Al Holen, saw her potential and encouraged Alex to emphasize in ceramics. After much consideration, including a memorable sleepless night, Alex realized she had to go after that dream. Snagging a job in the Kenneth P. McCutchan Art Center/ Palmina F. and Stephen S. Pace Galleries (MAC/PACE) with professor emerita Katie Waters also helped solidify her decision to pursue a career in the arts. Alex reflects, “Working with Katie was really fun and it helped me hone in on where I wanted to go with my art degree. It helped me decide on how I wanted to fit my degrees into my career instead of just being a ‘starving artist.’”
In addition to Waters’s and Holen’s mentorship, having the opportunity to work in our gallery on campus played an important part in preparing Alex for graduate school. Alex was accepted into the ceramics program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) in 2016. “It is a renowned program in terms of ceramics, and I was really drawn to how large their ceramics facility is.” During all three years at SIUE, Alex was able to work in The University Museum. “I think what got that ball rolling was working with the gallery here at USI.” Handling artwork, putting up exhibitions, inspecting art objects were all skills she picked up at the MAC/PACE and became important parts of her new job. According to Alex, SIUE’s museum is more like a research archive, an interactive tool for students and faculty to use, with tens of thousands of objects. “I spent a lot of time moving objects, handling them carefully, and making sure they were in decent condition. I wrote reports and did research on items for the museum.”
Her job in the SIUE museum was only a portion of her graduate school experience. At the time of applying, Alex had a portfolio full of functional ceramic work (utilitarian objects such as vases and mugs) but she was able to take other studio courses like sculpture and textiles, to round out her skills. She shares, “I found out I loved textiles. I started incorporating a lot of that into my clay work and the rest is kind of history because I still incorporate those elements into my work today.” The final project for the graduate students at SIUE, a thesis exhibition of work, allowed Alex to showcase these newfound skills on a grand scale. In her own words:
“I created a large installation on a pedestal I built. It was four feet wide by fifteen feet long, just a couple inches off ground. This piece had a lot of these really narrow, vertical tubes. Each was oval-shaped and kind of tapered upwards. I pinched them out – a process where I literally pinch areas of the clay to thin it out. Each piece came to a different height and I fired them to a specific temperature with a specific surface application to give them this nice, soft, fleshy subtle surface.
I have this really meditative practice of rolling out a coil, pinching it, rolling out a coil and pinching it… You’re doing the same thing over and over again – lots of repetition. I have a lot of similar themes that show up in my work. I like unity and variety and I like multiples. I turn that into this repetition of form and repetition of surface.”
Alex extended dyed paper from the tops of those ceramic pieces, stiffened with glue to create this very natural, organic-looking object. 59 of those ceramic pieces were spread out across this long pedestal, giving it an appearance of some kind of living organism. Titled “You Are the Outlier,” it touches on ideas of humans ostracizing and excluding versus being inclusive, welcoming, and banding together in solidarity.
You Are the Outlier installation by Alex Bailey
This final piece from her thesis exhibition is a kind of spiritual predecessor to the piece Alex is currently working on as a part of a commission from the USI Foundation. Alex returned to the USI Dowhie Ceramic Center in August 2019 to begin creating an outdoor sculpture to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Foundation. Her creation, titled “Standing Together” will be the largest piece she has ever worked on. It will take the form of five round column forms, the shortest of which will be eight feet tall and the tallest will be twelve feet tall. Each column will be made up of many different sections. Alex says, “It speaks to building one another up, and kind of recognizing yourself within a community and understanding that there are building blocks to culture and society.”
Alex will continue working on the commission through the Spring 2020 semester with hopes of installing in the summer of 2020. Follow the College of Liberal Arts online to see her progress.