BILLY KHEEL

Skyhigh
Main Gallery
February 13th – March 12th 2016

Billy Kheel is a Los Angeles based artist whose recent work in felt appliqué is best described as “Rick Ross meets Betsy Ross”. Kheel first began working with felt by making large-scale felt appliqué pennants. Kheel pushed the material beyond sports memorabilia by creating projects about Los Angeles strip mall culture and the Los Angeles River. “Skyhigh” represents Kheel’s return to sports as subject matter, with a greater focus on pushing the medium into the realm of painting.

Each painting in “Skyhigh” has been hand cut and sewn by the artist. Colorfully dyed wool and recycled felt is used in the creation of each piece. Kheel uses felt as a painter uses paint: as color to suggest space and detail. The cut and sewn pieces give a unique surface dimensionality to each work. The pieces are designed to be appreciated from afar as well as close enough to see the intricate cutting and stitches

From Billy Kheel:
The title “Skyhigh” has multiple meanings for me. This is my first time exhibiting art in Denver and the city itself really inspired me. Geographically the city floats high in the air atop the Rocky Mountains. Denver also has a rich and passionate sports culture which I wanted to reference and explore. And, lastly, the recent changes to the laws governing marijuana use in Colorado are completely new to me. All of these distinct ideas were swirling around in my mind as I cut and sewed the art for the show.

This is my first time showing these felt appliqué sports themed paintings. Aesthetically, I love the image of a human propelling themselves through the air. As a former college football and lacrosse player, I remember the slow motion sensation of floating through the air to be one of the most profound experiences in sports. I’ve also always been fascinated by the idea that many amazing, high-performing athletes were smoking marijuana while they were also dominating their competition. Athletes caught using weed have been subject to suspensions, and even criminal prosecution. I feel that highlighting some of these All Star and Champion stoners raises interesting questions about sports and culture and our shifting ideas on what constitutes healthy behavior.

Using felt and thread, Billy Kheel builds soft sculptures and wall hangings. His approach plays with the concepts of masculine vs. feminine and folk vs. academic in relation to artistic process and intent. By using craft techniques to explore typically masculine subject matter, Kheel’s work is influenced by the impact of shifting gender roles on culture. Regardless of the subject of a given series, a sense of humor and warmth runs throughout his work. This is Kheel’s first exhibit with Black Book Gallery. Kheel has exhibited nationally and internationally and his work has been featured in Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, KCRW’s Design and Architecture and KCET’s Artbound.

Tell us a little bit about your work, career, school, ideas, etc?
I’m a Los Angeles based artist. I also do a little teaching, t-shirt graphics and animation. I went to college at Wesleyan University and then came out to Los Angeles and started taking classes around town. Its amazing to me how much you can learn and how many great artists you can learn from if you search them out and look for classes. My idea on art is to use surprising processes that add something new and different to the artwork.

You played sports (football and lacrosse) in college, were you also a “practicing” artist at the time? When/why did you make the switch from athlete to artist?
That was a little while ago so I was still a student. I wouldn’t call myself a practicing artist at that point yet. I do remember there being some tension between the art side and the sport side of the school, like coming to practice late and being asked how the dance recital went, even though I was studying oil painting at the time.

What is more important – Content or technique?
The content is most important, otherwise its just decoration. Content is what makes the work lasting in the mind. But that being said, I love when people discover art for themselves and one way to engage people in art is to use a technique that they are familiar with or have an attraction to. Once they are in there then you hit ’em with the content.

How has your process changed over time – Have you always been interested in sewing and using fabrics?
I started using fabric about 6 years ago, I did these large, surreal sports pennants. I’ve also done installations using stuffed and sewn fabric for soft sculptures. Now I am mixing the fabric process with my painting background to use the fabric more as a painter uses paints to describe a form and environment. I think the paintings are enhanced by the warmth and presence that felt brings.

How many hours do your pieces generally take to complete?

These pieces are pretty labor intensive, because they are all hand cut and hand sewn and based on original drawings. So about a week per piece.

What are some of the responses you hear in regards to your work?
The other day someone asked me if my idea of using feminine craft techniques to make work about macho sports culture was inspired by Caitlyn Jenner coming out. I said maybe. In general, I like when my recent work can appeal to a sports fan that has no interest in art or craft but also appeals to a hardcore crafter who doesn’t care about sports at all.

Describe your work environment – Music you listen to, things you drink/smoke, time of day etc

I currently sublet some warehouse space in beautiful El Sereno from an artist buddy (kieljohnson.com). I like a loose studio with lots of music and media pouring in, but definitely hard working. I’m a hip hop fan and I like working with the energy of hip hop music. I’m not into laying around munching Cheeba Chews. So not a lot of sitting down going on – but a little dancing on occasion.

What is currently influencing you that might surprise people?
Right now, I’m really inspired by Haitian Voodoo sequin art. My brother lives down in the Dominican Republic and he hooks me up. I’m seriously thinking of getting into some sequins this year. I’m also inspired by applique wall hangings from Benin where they depict the history of their tribe and their gods.

Where/what do you think you will be doing in 25 years?
You mean when I’m not jet setting between international art exhibits? I’ll be in a much bigger space pouring my issues into new processes to make art. Hopefully with the help of a bunch of robots.

If you could choose only one, would you rather be thought of as a great artist or a nice person?
I have to go with great artist. Art and creativity are so important. Without it we’re goners. So, if I can spread the seed of creativity to someone that’s far more important than if they remember me as a nice guy.

AVAILABLE ARTWORK

COMMISSIONS AVAILABLE!
Contact us if you are interested in a commission by Billy Kheel of your favorite athlete or playing card.
Availability: Inquire

EATING GREEDY (VON MILLER)
Media: Hand cut, dyed and sewn felt/wool
Size: 11 x 15 Inches
Edition: 3 – One available
Year: 2016
Price: $800
Availability: Inquire

SHEED AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT (RASHEED WALLACE)
Media: Hand cut, dyed and sewn felt/wool
Size: 44 x 16 Inches
Year: 2016
Price: $2200
Availability: Inquire

SPACE RANDY (RANDY MOSS)
Media: Hand cut, dyed and sewn felt/wool
Size: 24 x 24 Inches
Year: 2016
Price: $1800
Availability: Inquire

FROM A SMALL SEED (TIM LINCECUM)
Media: Hand cut, dyed and sewn felt/wool
Size: 11 x 15 Inches
Edition: 3
Year: 2016
Price: $800
Availability: Inquire

SKYHIGH (JR SMITH)
Media: Hand cut, dyed and sewn felt/wool
Size: 30 x 42 Inches
Year: 2016
Price: $2400
Availability: Inquire

NO MEDICINE LIKE HOPE (HOPE SOLO)
Media: Hand cut, dyed and sewn felt/wool
Size: 17 x 23 Inches
Year: 2016
Price: $1400
Availability: Inquire

RICKY, RICKY, RICKY CAN’T YOU SEE? (RICKY WILLIAMS)
Media: Hand cut, dyed and sewn felt/wool
Size: 18 x 26 Inches
Year: 2016
Price: $1600
Availability: Inquire

THE PASSION OF BILL WALTON (BILL WALTON)
Media: Hand cut, dyed and sewn felt/wool
Size: 30 x 42 Inches
Year: 2016
Price: $2400
Availability: Inquire