SURFACING: The Elegant art of Bailey Ferguson

By Betty Ann Brown

When a surfer is knocked off her board by the crash of a cliff-like wave, she tumbles into deep swirling water. For a short, scary moment, she is tossed through the dark blue motion and doesn't know which way is up. But soon, she reorients and surfaces, kicking into breath and safety. That brief moment of frightening disorientation is not unlike the helpless despair so many of us have felt during the current pandemic. It is also the source of Hawaii-based artist Bailey Ferguson's new series of paintings, Wipeout.

Ferguson's luscious Social Distanced Wipeout #3 is a 24" x 24" canvas covered in acrylic, pastel and spray paint. The composition is based on shimmering veils of blue--cobalt, indigo, teal--covered by a misty cloud of white and crossed by a dynamic zigzag that reveals the various layers of color and form beneath it. Social Distanced Wipeout #1 achieves a similar contrast of glowing fields of color crossed by diagonal lines revealing pigmented strata, but it focuses on yellow, green, and black, rather than the azure hues of #3. The liquid splash of chartreuse and the sunlit burst of radiant saffron point to the sea and sky origins of the artist's nature-based imagery. The Deep End of Wonder #2 adds pale pink and blurry gold to the palette.

Social Distanced Wipeout #1 30x30" (available), Social Distanced Wipeout #2 24x24" (available)

Although Wipeout is a largely abstract series, Ferguson achieves remarkable aesthetic variety while presenting numerous poetic references to the surf and sea. TOO BIG! Lymans portrays the curl of a huge wave. Kahalu'u #3 depicts foam-laced water crashing on rocks. Emerging for Air incorporates drops of saturated red (blood red?) sandwiched between calligraphic lines and deep black shadows.


Too Big! Lymans, 30x40"

Ferguson's Wipeout paintings function as objective correlatives, that is, as symbolic representations evoking particular feelings. They refer to the emotional charges of her experiences as a surfer and connects them to our shared responses to the pandemic. Her paintings are not simply beautiful, they are also rich in impassioned content. Their immense visual appeal of the painted forms is profoundly enhanced by their expressive foundation.


Betty Ann Brown, PHD

Betty Ann Brown, PHD is an art historian, critic and curator. She received her Ph.D. in the History of Art in 1978, joined the California State University, Northridge faculty in 1986 and was honored with Professor Emeritus status in 2015. Brown has curated retrospective exhibitions for Hans Burkhardt, Roland Reiss, Linda Vallejo, June Wayne and John White, as well as numerous themed exhibitions, including Time, Space & Matter: Five Installations Exploring Natural Phenomena (Lita Albuquerque, Suvan Geer, George Geyer, Mineko Grimmer, Tom McMillan and Christine Nguyen) and Fantastic Feminist Figuration (Jodi Bonassi, Bibi Davidson, Enzia Farrell, Laura Larson, Dierdre Sullivan-Beeman, Tslil Tsemet and Lauren YS.) Her exhibition of the work of Betye, Alison and Lezley Saar opened at MOAH in February 2018.