Billy Kheel Gets ‘Skyhigh’
The artful arranging of the weed/sports contradiction
In content and form, Billy Kheel is well at ease in finding harmony in the incongruous. Well, the seemingly incongruous. For his latest exhibition, the artist, whose work has best been described as “Rick Ross meets Betsy Ross,” finds muse in the reconciling of the weed/sports contradiction.
Now a quick show of hands: How many utterly agile athletes do you know—and I mean total beasts in the clutch, true poets on the field—that are certifiable stoners too? A lot, right? Me too. Kheel takes that fascination of the high-performing champ that smokes and still dominates and turns it into a new series of mesmerizing, three-dimensional portraits—in felt. That’s right, successfully skewing every bullshit boundary of “feminine” arts and crafts and “macho” sports culture, each piece in the aptly titled Skyhigh is arranged from the delicate task of hand-cutting and stitching colorfully dyed wool and recycled felt.
Using the materials very much so as a painter uses paint, the Los Angeles-based artist gives incredible dimensionality (You see those highlights on Sheeds calves?!) to the likenesses of newly crowned MVP Von Miller, Randy Moss, Hope Solo, Rasheed Wallace, and Tim Lincecum among others. On average, a solid week’s time is dedicated to a single creation.
Kheel first began working with felt about six years ago, by making large-scale felt appliqué sports pennants. As his practice evolved, he ventured beyond the domain of athletics, and in the intervening years, created projects centered on the Los Angeles River and the city’s strip mall culture. But, Skyhigh marks Kheel’s return to sports as subject matter—this time with a greater focus on driving his portraits into the realm of painting.
“Felt appliqué is an incredible medium,” says Kheel. “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,” Kheel points out, “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.”
All at an exhibition in Colorado, no less.
Skyhigh begins this Saturday, February 13 at Black Book Gallery in Denver (304 Elati Street), with an opening reception from 6–10 p.m. that is free and open to the public. The show runs through March 12, 2016.