Editor’s note: Open Doors is a series in which photojournalist Anna Solo visits the homes and workspaces of fascinating Seacoast people.
Chase Bailey is a familiar name on the Seacoast. He’s an accomplished film writer, actor, producer, and director who has worked with John Malkovich, Johnny Depp, and Uma Thurman, among others. He has enjoyed a long career both behind and in front of the camera and is head of the indie production company, Left Bank Films.
In December, however, Bailey wrapped up his last film to pursue something he loves just a little bit more: oil painting. Bailey now devotes much of his Portsmouth studio space to his work as a painter.
Born and raised in Kansas, Bailey joined the Marine Corps after several years at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri. After serving in Vietnam and then being stationed in Georgia, he moved to Silicon Valley, where he led a successful career in technology. In 1999, he retired and moved to Paris in pursuit of his lifelong dream of becoming a painter. He moved to New Hampshire after marrying his wife, who is from Portsmouth.
Bailey pursued acting in high school and college, and after retiring from the tech world, he decided to get back into it. He began working with an acting coach who was also working with John Malkovich, which led to an introduction and, ultimately, a friendship and collaboration. He has served as a producer on major Hollywood movies and smaller local projects.
“I did a bunch of films with John (Malkovich), I did ‘The Libertine’ with Johnny Depp, I did ‘Drunkboat,’ I did ‘Ghost World’… I did a bunch of films with his company and that’s how I learned the business,” Bailey says. “I loved it. I loved acting, I loved everything to do with film, in front of the camera and behind the camera. But my true love is painting, and that’s what I spend most of my time thinking about and dreaming about and working on.”
Bailey describes himself as a solitary person who needs to be alone when he works. His wife is also a painter and often works in his studio. But Bailey does most of his work between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., when no one else is around.
To get into the right headspace, he plays music videos. “I turn the volume up and immerse myself with my two palettes and I just throw paint at a canvas,” he says.
His pieces are typically very large and are characterized by bright, hot colors. His work demonstrates a mixture of several styles, taking inspiration from the art of the late 1800s to the early 1900s. “It’s basically post-impressionism with a fauvist palette, with a dash of cubism and a dash of abstract expressionism in there — just a dash,” says Bailey.
Bailey’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. One particularly famous piece traveled the world for about 10 years: a portrait of the Dalai Lama. After being invited to submit to a portrait project called “The Missing Peace,” Bailey’s portrait of the Dalai Lama was chosen for the world-traveling show. The piece was ultimately purchased by a collector in Tokyo.
Bailey’s appreciation for the Dalai Lama is evident in the small altar he has set up in his studio, which features a Richard Avedon photograph of the monk on the wall, as well as a photo of Bailey’s son with the Dalai Lama below it.
To stay inspired and avoid ruts, Bailey works on four or five paintings simultaneously. His drawing table, covered with photos and books of other people’s artwork, is where he begins the conception of a new painting, playing around with colored pencils and chalks until he likes it.
Also in Bailey’s studio is a small selection of his favorite pieces by other artists, tables of oil paints and brushes, his own paintings in progress on easels, and finished works on the walls. The large room is broken up in such a way as to create a space for the occasional nap, with a couch and coffee table off to the side, a neat office space with a desk and computer, and a large table for meetings, work, or wine. A self professed “wino” and lover of great food and theater, when Bailey isn’t painting, he’s hosting wine tastings for close friends in his studio, attending shows at a local theater, or enjoying dinner at one of his favorite restaurants. When he’s not doing that, he’s playing tennis.
Though he never expected to find himself living in a small city after San Francisco and Paris, Bailey has developed a love for Portsmouth. “Now I’m at that age where I love to pamper myself with good food, good wine, good music, good plays, everything. Who would have thought that in Portsmouth you could have all of that?”