Using felt and thread, Billy Kheel creates soft sculptures, wall hangings, portraits and installations. His approach challenges traditional gender roles and concepts about masculinity. His use of material questions the boundary between art and craft. Regardless of the subject of a given series, a sense of humor and warmth runs throughout his work.
Kheel first created and exhibited large surreal felt applique banners in 2010 at GATE Projects INCREMENTS show in Los Angeles. These banners were inspired by extreme sports fan culture and Kheel’s own athletic background. He then turned his attention to his rapidly gentrifying East Los Angeles neighborhood. Kheel created Sunset Stitches, his first foray into soft sculpture, a show that brought to life mascots from local strip mall signs from businesses which were rapidly closing and being replaced by juice and coffee shops. The Los Angeles Times said, “Many an artist has documented the visual landscape of Los Angeles’ streets, but few have felt it as strongly as Billy Kheel.”
In fall of 2015, Kheel first expressed his love for tacos rendered in felt when he teamed with artist and beer enthusiast Dale Dreiling for Tacos & Beer at the Fifth Floor Gallery in L.A.’s Chinatown. After these pre-game tacos Kheel again tackled sports with his next show A Summoning of Dodger Spirits at Dodger’s shrine Cofax in the Fairfax District. Kheel hoped his imagined Dodger baseball cards, made of felt applique and sequins would influence the World Series outcome in the Dodgers favor. He was wrong. That did not stop him from trying again at Denver’s Blackbook Gallery with Sky High, a show of influential athletes in felt that included that years Super Bowl MVP and fashion icon Von Miller. As Vice noted about the show, “Kheel’s work juxtaposes the masculine and heroic themes attached to professional sports against the matronly associates of sewing and quilting.”
Kheel returned to Los Angeles and took a dive into the L.A. River for his next installation, L.A River: The Fiber of a City. Kheel recreated the famously repulsive L.A. River in a twenty foot by four foot installation of stuffed and appliqued felt. Using actual clean up inventories and scientific data, Kheel used the L.A. River as a prism in which to view the history, cultures and ecology of his neighborhood. As KCET’s Artbound said at the time “Kheel’s installation evokes warring instincts in a viewer’s mind: gritty clashes with mushy, resulting is a pleasant nostalgia, an emotional response of ownership with something that doesn’t always present itself so beautifully.”
Kheel was a contestant on the first season of NBC’s Making It with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. Watch it now on NBC.com!
Billy Kheel is a Los Angeles based artist who has exhibited nationally and internationally and his work has been featured in Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Vice Creator’s Project, KCRW’s Design and Architecture and KCET’s Artbound. He lives on the Eastside of Los Angeles with his wife and two children.