articles
todd
camplin
2014
BILLY HASSELL
at Tyler Museum of Art through January 19th
by Todd Camplin

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.
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Hassell Road Runner South of Marfa
SPRING IN EAST TEXAS - 50x48 inches