Eldridge Bagley (1945- ), his wife Beth, and their son Wade, live on the Southside Virginia farm where he grew up. He and his family worked hard raising crops and livestock. It was a harshly demanding yet gently nurturing lifestyle. This paradox remains a motivating force in his life and his art.
After twenty-seven years of experiencing the rural realities, more than the seasons began to change for him. Whether it was the awakening of a dormant dream or a vision inspired by the work of artists like Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, Bagley found a means of bridging the gap between where he was and where he wanted to be. Dimestore paint sets and precious bits of time at the end of a day’s labor slowly evolved into a surprising career change.
Choosing not to pursue formal art training, Bagley developed his own unique approach to painting. When viewing his work of the previous two decades, an evolution of style becomes apparent. Brush strokes are now longer and more fluid; color tones are more subtle. Yet, despite a transition of approach, a consistent theme emerges. Bagley paints from his heart and from his experiences. In the words of one art reviewer, “Bagley’s style is as unaffected as his vision, but it is assured, confident and aesthetically engaging. Bagley seems to possess an innate feeling for combining composition and point of view to lead the viewer effortlessly into the world he paints.”
Eldridge Bagley paints what he knows. He captures the rural South in spirit and detail. He paints the joys and the hardships of the farm family life, a life that was quieter, calmer, rawer, rougher, than the suburban existence most Americans know today. Bagley paints what he knows, and yet sadly, slowly, but surely, the world he knows is disappearing.
Gerard Wertkin, then Director of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City, wrote of the difficulty in categorizing Eldridge Bagley’s style. “To suggest that Bagley is a folk artist provides no more insight into his work than to categorize him simply as self-taught. His work is multi-textured and highly original. If any context is especially appropriate, it may well be the tradition of the regionalist painters of the American mid-century, whose concerns for the struggles of ordinary people, the special light and color of the rural landscape, and recording of ways that are deeply embedded in the fabric of everyday life have illumined the heartland of America. With a perceptive eye, an authentic voice, and the soul of a storyteller, Eldridge Bagley does exactly that.”
Bagley’s art is not sentimental. It is true-to-life. It includes the grit and the hardships as well as the pleasures of farm family life. He sees the people, just scraping by. He sees the city, encroaching on the country. He invites us to take a closer look at these landscapes, lest we turn away, lest we forget.