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Two Stories About Billy Hassell

Billy Hassell: Out Flying in his Field

According to a mutual friend of Billy's, Hassell's show at William Campbell is "magnificent. It is a glorious return to color plus some really interesting layering. CBS, I think is filming his show (and some work for the airport) for TV soon."

Billy Hassell - Clearing, 2003
oil on canvas - 48 x 52 inches
in Trace at William Campbell Contemporary in Fort Worth
See Below for more information

I don't usually critique works from the invitational postcards, because I'm talking about images not hung on walls somewhere but work shown in printed matter — more than thrice removed from the philosophic reality. But this is too good to pass up.

I mean that literally. I barely know artist Billy Hassell, although I wrote a story about him for Chicago's New Art Examiner in 1986. I like him, and I'm glad he's from around here.

I've been watching and photographing and writing about his long, slowly metamorphing series of birds on patterned grounds for many years, and I hope to keep watching, photoing and writing about them for many more.

 

Billy Hassell - 2002 at Conduit
seen near last Christmas in Conduit's back room

 

I got really worried at his all-landscape show at Conduit last year, and I was only slightly relieved to find more pre-dated Christmas birds in the back room. So this (above) noisy, unpecking bird flying over its abstracted clearing somewhere east of The Rockies gives me great hope.

The woodpecker appears to be a departure from his development of placing birds on backgrounds that look like stylized, Christmas wrapping. Before, the birds perched on or flew through folkish stylized, not-so patterned plants.

Although the other image on the William Campbell Contemporary invitation employs just such a background, with a purplish blue jay swooping across a formal flora design. You know it's not real, exactly, but it is lovely.

The new unpecking woodpecker flies, instead, through a abstracted landscape alive with those bits of Neo Post Modernist artifacts we've often seen in much of the art of late last and early this century — although one looks a lot like the silhouette of a stop sign perched wiggley precarious on a steep hill.

Here, the background is kind of wonderful.

Unlike the wrapping paper of other bird(s) in the show — which I have not seen and probably won't drive all the way over to Fort Worth for (even though William Campbell has long been a favorite Forp Woof stopping place) — it looks almost natural, and much more spatial.

I know he'd like to sell them in Fort Worth, but I'm eager for his next show closer to my Elderly East Dallas home, so I can peruse his new abstractly developments in person.

I think I like where these birds might be heading.
  

See also

Billy Hassell: Recent Work

(1986)

by J R Compton

DW Gallery, Second Floor, 3200 Main
January 25-February 27, 1986
 

The most mythologically Texas aspect of Billy Hassell's large, simply colorful paintings is that sometimes you can see the yellow polkadotted night sky through the mesh of folk objects.

Hassell mixes traditional and highly personalized symbols into contemporary quiltworks of trout, wolves, red-wing blackbirds, ducks, woodpeckers, cardinals, rowboats, flowering cacti, earth and sky.

Although his less vibrant works could be mistaken for primitivism, Hassell's sophisticated spacial sense, precisely limited color pallette, luscious layering and underglazing, and bigger-than-life dimensions distinguish his large paintings.

He is fascinated by the interdependent intricacies of food chains, migration patterns and weather — but rarely people. His graphic simplicity, bold patterning, recognizable forms and bright decorative colors make it easy for collectors to find his mythos intriguing.

Also, his work manifests a joyous spirit, which reflects the thirty-year-old painter's joie de vivre and starkly contrasts the angst evident in so much New York painting. His prices are moderate. And he makes a living selling art. He will show in San Antonio this May.

Most memorable in the Dallas show was Redwings in a Storm, (diptich, 64" x 74"). In it a cacophonous flock of grayblue-to-lilac, orange-winged "black" birds with yellow beaks and turquoise shadows on green earth, fly through a color-distorting storm of red outlined lightning bolts. The sense of danger is real.

Migration, (60" x 72") drew painters to its carefully prepared surface. A brown, teated wolf lays in a green field. Giant fish fly overhead, and blackbirds fill odd spaces. Two yellow hands, six orange striped lilac hand-shaped birds and five red feathers float serenely in one of his comparitively straightforward scenarios.

All sixteen pieces at DW were done since August in Hassell's Houston studio, where he was currently working on seven more. He usually has several going instead of "meticulously completing just one at a time, as it might appear." The new ones, he said, were "much looser."

Hassell has finished about a dozen paintings a year in the seven years since he earned his B.F.A. from Notre Dame. His M.F.A. is from the University of Massachusetts.

Lately, he's working with plywood cut-outs, which he compared with the simple bold strokes of a new painting. The first few lines on a canvas are of "paramount importance," he said. "It's make it or break it at that point."

 

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