In Bailey’s hands “Paracosm” is an otherworldly universe full of sensuous natural forms, like a colorful fish tank filled with plants shifting with the currents and dozens of tiny creatures floating by.
Bailey gets into trouble when she follows a mantra of “go big or go home.” Paintings like “Tree of Life” at 84 by 72 inches with its central blue tree and a psychedelic landscape unfurling around it, feel overloaded and busy in a less meaningful way. It is in her sparer, cleaner work undulating like a python or laid out like a cityscape on a clean white surface that leaves your eyes room to roam, but also rest. By the same token “The Joy Fields 2” (2019) is an assaultive explosion of acidic, neon corals, fleshy apricots and cotton candy pinks that feels less like a glimpse into a hidden world and more like an artist who can become dependent on the sheer spectacle of color for impact.
In the past, Bailey has often tended to paint in tight, controlled, cellular clusters. It’s nice to see her loosen up here, and maybe — at least aesthetically — let go. Perhaps, as the paintings themselves indicate, Bailey is just engaged in the artist’s purest pursuit: to change and grow, to morph from one thing into another, which is always a worthwhile pursuit.
“You’ll Never Make This Again: Whitney Wood Bailey”
Through Jan. 11. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.Tuesdays-Saturdays. Free. Hathaway Gallery, 887 Howell Mill Road, NW, Suite 200, 470-428-2061, hathawaygallery.com.
Bottom line: Many of her works trade visual impact for spectacle and size but this painter still manages to delight at times.