Show Preview | Billy Hassell

Houston, TX
William Reaves | Sarah Foltz Fine Art, November 10-December 22

Billy Hassell, Powderhorn Ranch, 2015, ed. 30, color lithograph, 24 x 22.

Billy Hassell, Powderhorn Ranch, 2015, ed. 30, color lithograph, 24 x 22.

This story was featured in the December 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art December 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Countless art lovers have already rejoiced in Fort Worth-based Billy Hassell’s self-described “stylized, expressive interpretations of nature.” His instantly recognizable birds and other wildlife, portrayed in a style that’s reminiscent of both 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints and American regionalists like Thomas Hart Benton, have been exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Art and Fort Worth’s Modern Art Museum. There’s also his 20-foot avian mosaic on the floor in Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. But not many people have experienced work with the deep emotional impact of his latest paintings, which make up a solo show titled Shadows that’s on view beginning Saturday, November 10, at William Reaves | Sarah Foltz Fine Art.

Unlike the artist’s past efforts, the large-scale oil paintings featured here—such as GHOSTS OF THE PLAINS, PASSENGER PIGEON—focus primarily on endangered and extinct birds, mostly Texas native species. It’s an interest that was sparked by commissions Hassell has received over the past two decades to create prints for the Nature Conservancy, the Texas chapter of the Audubon Society, and Texas Parks and Wildlife. “I really began to think about conservation in a proactive way,” he explains. “I feel like part of the role of an artist should be to educate or reorient the world to new ways of thinking.”

With that goal in mind, Hassell’s latest paintings present his winged subjects, brightly colored as always, against surprisingly somber depictions of their natural habitats in muted gray tones that subconsciously set off an alarm of ecological peril. “The clear intent is definitely to make people aware,” he continues. “But I’m still treating it in a fairly poetic way rather than beating people over the head with a political message.” Adds gallery director Mariah Rockefeller, “Billy helps us realize the beauty of nature in a way that also informs us on how to protect it. He’s able to bridge the worlds of knowledgeable art collectors and the ecologically conscious.” The featured images will be joined by seven black-and-white and seven hand-colored lithographs of various wildlife species, along with a few watercolors. The artist is also creating a slightly larger-than-life-size sculptural installation that, says Rockefeller, “pushes the boundaries of ways in which his work has been exhibited.”

Such thought-provoking efforts are also leading the gallery to find ways to help amplify the meaning behind Hassell’s creations. These include a show catalog featuring a thoughtful and eloquent essay by Robin Davidson, professor of English at the University of Houston–Downtown and the City of Houston’s Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017. On Tuesday, December 4, an evening event open to the public will focus on the works for Texas Parks and Wildlife, with both Hassell and Peter Webb, master printer and owner of Austin’s Lucky Strike Press, in attendance. Whether driven by a love of art or of nature, a visit to the show promises to be time well spent. In these works, sums up Rockefeller, “Billy is digging into something really fantastic and deep. This is a strong exclamation point in his career.” —Norman Kolpas

contact information
713.521.7500
www.reavesart.com

This story was featured in the December 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art December 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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