For several years, Mark Bulwinkle has been encouraging me to meet Clayton Bailey and see his art. Bulwinkle is, in my book, the true north of Quirky Berkeley art. His recommendation carries weight.
I didn’t know much about Crockett. I have passed it hundreds of times. I notice the C&H Sugar plant there. The California and Hawaiian Sugar Refining Company has been refining pure cane sugar in Crockett since 1906. Many of the jobs have been lost to automation, but the plant is still a major employer. An old friend worked the Hawaii to Crockett sugar run for a few years.
What I didn’t know about Crockett – Clayton Bailey has been making art here since 1967 when he drove across country from Whitewater, Wisconsin, with his high school sweetheart bride. Bailey has a comprehensive website with a comprehensive professional resume. I’m more about photos than facts, which works here. If you want all the who-what-where-when, check out his website.
Or – check out his Facebook page.
Or – check out his Instagram.
He has taught extensively, is a master of ceramics and robot-building. Along with Roy DeForest and Mark Bulwinkle and others, Bailey was part of the “Nut Art” movement in Northern California in the early 1970s. Nut Art was an approach to art which embraced humor along with the phantasmagorical. Which means having a fantastic or deceptive appearance, as something in a dream or created by the imagination.
For the last four years, Bailey has displayed his art at the Bailey Art Museum on Rolph Avenue in Crockett. From 1967 until the mid 1970s, Bailey and his wife Betty lived, worked, and showed their art in this space, which before them had been the Dairyville Cafe. They moved a few miles towards Port Costa, and then for a few years they ran the Bailey Museum out of The Warehouse in Port Costa.
It’s a holiday today. In 2016 holidays have meant field trips – so – let’s go to Crockett.
The Rolph Avenue museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays. Bailey himself curates and guides.
The museum showcases art by Bailey, as well as work by his wife and son. Bailey’s ceramics are a fascinating blend of high production values and quirky artistic sensibility.
Along with the ceramic demons and jugs and faces are dozens of robots. Shiny, happy robots.
Also in the museum is much of the work performed by Dr. George Gladstone, a Bailey persona who has unearthed a Bigfoot skeleton, a cyclops skull, and other wonders from the Pre-Credulous Era.
This bust of Gladstone in Bailey’s yard was made by Anthony Natsoulas,
Nominated for a Nobel Prize in Science – way to go Dr. Gladstone!
The photographs are great, but they only hint at the wonder that is the museum. It’s about 20 minutes away. Bulwinkle was right – it is a real treat. The art, the man, the town.
Bailey lives several miles from Crockett, on the winding road to Port Costa. The car in front of John Storey and me was stopped on the wrong side of the street. They were looking at wild turkeys or something. We could hear the music from their car with a hobo vibe. I hadn’t heard the song in a long time but – I can name that tune! Nobody got hurt. It’s that kind of road. My daughter Charlotte’s driving instructor recommends that she practice there.
The house is shingled in a non-linear, ultra sawtooth pattern.
One of the two rockets on the property is visible over the fence.
Ceramic demons top the fence posts.
We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Bailey’s home backs up to park-owned land. You see no other houses. Magic. Lucky! His art is everywhere.
Clayton Bailey is all about bricks. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of them, on his land.
James Snowball owned the Snowball Fire Brick company in Gateshead, northern England. He fished from the Strait, dumped there when their career as ballast was over.
Many came from a closed brickworks in Port Costa that told him he could have all he wanted. Every day for six months he brought a truck load to his home. It wrecked his knees and his truck. He has 98 different types of bricks.
Bailey does his clay work in this small studio. His pottery and ceramic work are everywhere on the property.
Among Bailey’s ceramic works in the yard is a Pyro Sphere. Technically that term applies to the hot central portion of the earth. That is not how Bailey uses the word.
Smoke issuing forth? How?
Sun. Magnifying glass. Focused light. Heat.
The focused light makes a slow burn of a piece of wood. Thus the smoke.
While in the ceramics department,
In his robot workshop, Bailey has several ceramic pieces that he made while still in Wisconsin and which he U-hauled out to California in 1967.
Bailey’s robot workshop is a world unto itself.
Behind the studio is a boneyard – bins and shelves with robot body parts.
Robots and other metal sculpture are everywhere you turn in the yard.
We have already seen one mid-sized rocket on the fence when we got to Bailey’s house. Inside the compound is a giant rocket, which doubled as a robot changing room.
There is a small amount of work by others in the yard.
Three Bulwinkle pieces! Bulwinkle, who first told me about Bailey.
Blacksmith Bill Roan, who created the Bay Bridge troll, made this bug.
And – a huge acid vat.
Bailey was looking to buy an Airstream. He was poking around Pinole when he saw this 528-gallon jar/cask that had been used for storing acid in the manufacture of dynamite in Hercules. The City of Pinole owned it. Bailey wanted to buy it – they sold it – and here it is.
He found an Aistream.
Two final pieces of Bailey work in the yard.
The pink pig has a tattoo on its side – “MEAT STINKS.”
So there it is – a small look at the work of Clayton Bailey.
Bulwinkle was glad that I finally went to meet Bailey and see his work. Of Bailey, Bulwinkle wrote me: “Clayton is well known in the ceramics world. He is also well known among artists nationally. He is an artist’s artist. I was impressed with his work in 1971 when stopping in to a small gallery in North Beach. Clayton is a great artist and craftsman. He is a source, or a seed, for other less intelligent and less talented to harvest.”
I found Bailey to be open and generous with his time and still very passionate about what he does. He embodies what the Nut Art movement started out to be – humor along with the phantasmagorical.
I can’t conceive of a better close-by quirky field trip than to visit Bailey’s Art Museum in Crockett. Check it out – and go.
I showed my friend the photos for this post. “Your friend Mr. Bailey is the real deal, that is apparent. When I was spending time in Vallejo, I’d duck down to Crockett once in a while, hang out at Toot’s with my friend Erskine. He was a little rough around the edges but – great dude, a real gem. Toot’s was a great spot. Far out place.”
Anyways – what about the Clayton Bailey post, my friend?
What is the best thing a fellow artist can say about a great artist: A life well squandered!, or, as Kurt Vonnegut said, “we are put on this earth to just fart around,”( to paraphrase the advice of a great and dearly missed voice in this, the era of Trump). Mui, mui Bien, Senor Bailey mb
Thanks for enlightening me about Clayton Bailey, The dudes is truly the real deal.
Bailey is the best. You’ve got to see his art to believe it!
I’ve been a fan of Clayton Bailey’s work ever since he had his museum in Port Costa upstairs from the Warehouse Cafe back in the days when the iconic restauranteur Juanita (Eat it or wear it!) Musson ran the restaurant.
I particularly recall his display of his Bigfoot skeleton and of all of the whimsical robots.
why am i not surprised hat you knew hun?