Exhibition Information

Vestiges: Billy Hassell
October 17-December 7, 2018

Hassell’s works are characterized by their exuberant colors with an overarching theme inspired by the natural world, more specifically, plants, animals and birds. Hassell explains. “My work is a metaphorical response to nature and seeks a balance between realism and abstraction. I work primarily in oil paint but I also produce original hand-pulled color lithographs as well as watercolors and pencil drawings when I travel. I develop ideas from the watercolors and drawings, rather than from photographs, into the paintings I produce in my studio and the color lithographs I produce in collaboration with a master printmaker.”

Details of the subject matter for his paintings are reduced into a condensed visual language that employs larger color fields with sharply defined borders. This methodology allows a compression of reality into a stylized symbolism that represents symbiotic relationships in animal and plant life. Hassell’s artistic approach is informed by several art movements and styles throughout the history of art. Hassell adds, “I have been influenced by Mexican and American folk art, 19th Century Japanese woodblock prints, Medieval tapestries, antique maps, botanical studies, outsider artists, album covers from the 60’s and vintage fruit crate labels. Also of influence are a few mainstream 20th-century artists, particularly the regionalist painters of the 1930’s and 40’s”. The eclectic visual approach results in both representational and abstract outcomes. When the artist reflects on a source of his inspiration, he explains. “As a student, I was influenced by the first-generation abstract expressionist, Willem deKooning, his contemporary, Arshille Gorky and some slightly later day painters like Philip Guston and more contemporary painters, like the northwest painter, Gaylen Hansen and the Wisconsin painter, Tom Uttech. Time spent in Canada after graduate school introduced me to the Canadian Group of Seven, a northern counterpart to the early Texas painters who were working contemporaneously with the regionalists of the Midwest. Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood are notable examples of that movement.”

Hassell is not only an artist but also an environmental activist. Since 1992 his work has been increasingly involved with ecological issues and bird conservancy. He worked on projects with The Nature Conservancy of Texas, Audubon Texas and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. He says, “My commitment to conservation and concern for the Earth and the ravages resulting from our pursuit of natural resources continues with increasing conviction.” Hassell’s artistic practice reflects his efforts and the reverence towards nature and its role in a contemporary culture.

The display will be enhanced by a diverse supporting program built around the exhibition content and projects associated with a mini Artist in Residence. Billy Hassell will spend a little over a week on the SUNY Cortland campus engaging with students and faculty members from different departments. The campus community and the general public will have a chance to meet the artist and interact in a productive way. While on campus, he will be giving exhibition tours to students, coming to studio classes and working on a new multi-color lithograph with Charles Heasley, Professor at the Art and Art History department at SUNY Cortland. As part of the program, the Dowd Gallery will host a series of lectures on related topics. Dr. Viviana Ruiz Gutierrez, Research Associate and Quantitative Ecologist, Conservation Science Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology will share a stage with the artist discussing bird conservancy in a public lecture titled Art of Conservancy. In mid-November, both Dr. Erik Bitterbaum, President of SUNY Cortland and Ornithologist with Dr. Steven Broyles, Chair of Biology Department and Professor of biological sciences at SUNY Cortland will speak on the subject of the role of Ornithology in a larger context. The exhibition concludes with a lecture by Andrew Saluti, Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator, Graduate Program in Museum Studies, School of Design at Syracuse University, on J.J. Audubon, American naturalist, ornithologist and painter who was known for illustrations of American birds. 

Billy Hassell’s vivid paintings serve as visual narratives that heighten the beauty of nature but also contain an underlining message of urgency by depicting extinct birds and by that extension, pointing towards human-made disruption in the course of natural order. In this intersection of art and sociopolitical commentary, Hassell finds an outlet for his message. He adds, “It’s been said that in this time of existential crisis genuine artists reveal mystic truths in ways that impact our daily passage with one another. I see my role as an artist to somehow participate in this exchange.”

About Billy

Hassell holds a B.F.A. from the University of Notre Dame and an M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has gained wide recognition through solo and group exhibitions, awards, commissions, and inclusion in public, corporate, and private collections. Most recently, he has fielded one-man shows at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, the Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, William Campbell Contemporary Art in Fort Worth, and the Longview Museum of Art in Longview, Texas. He currently resides in Fort Worth, Texas.

Office Information

Dowd Fine Arts Center, 106 Graham Avenue and Prospect Terrace Cortland, NY 13045

Phone: 607-753-4216
Fax: 607-753-5934

Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Thr: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. 

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