Sunday, March 09, 2014


HOMING INSTINCT - 60x72 inches re-post of my article

When I was young, bold bright colors in art seems to capture my imagination. It must have been my exposure to a Matisse show at the High Museum in Atlanta during my first years as an undergraduate. A few Impressionist shows helped solidify my love of color. Only when exposed to the Picture Generation, Conceptual artists, and several of the Minimalist artists did I reject color in my own work. Plus I was sceptical when other artists used color to convey more than intellectual investigation. Slowly the love of color and its emotional punch, has returned. Visiting Billy Hassell’s show at the Tyler Museum of Art was very good medicine.

When I was deep into my color scepticism, Billy Hassell would have been an assault on my senses. However, this weekend the experience of his show was like a revelation. I have not seen an artist use such bright colors so effectively in a long time. I think much of his graphicly illustrative style contributes to the effectiveness of his pallet. Color to Hassell shows a natural world charged with life energy and movement.

His mixture of animal and wallpaper like background reminded me of Kehinde Wiley’s relationship to his figure and ground. Almost all the work in the show employed a wallpaper effect. By turning the natural objects into simple patterns, you are reminded of how some Pop artists used repetition and pattern to drive home the idea of the mass produced. Only in Hassell’s case, he is shaping the natural world into an ordered, predictable structure. Wiley’s portraits tend to interact with the background and the same can be said about Hassell’s animals.

Hassell’s bird can be perched on a branch, yet the background and bird still somehow flatten out. Some of the painting also used wood cutout silhouette shapes of birds. I instantly wanted to be critical of these works, but my emotions got the best of me, and the image as a whole, just won me over. The painted pattern backgrounds seemed to make his relief parts glow and float. Hassell’s lithographs were very vibrant like his paintings. I was reminded of Japanese prints, especially Brown Pelican I, with those dramatic ocean waves.

Tyler Museum of Art is an art oasis for East Texas. My kids enjoyed drawing in the family area while they patiently waited for me to pull myself away from Hassell’s show. Luckily, the El Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) folk art exhibition also made them very happy that we visited. I am now being flooded with requests from my kids to make masks with skulls.

Billy Hassell will be up until March 23rd, however, the Tyler Museum of Art’s collection of folk art will only be up until January 19th. for more images

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