Chatting with Bill Engel

February 23, 2010

I went to talk to Bill a couple of weeks ago with the specific idea of understanding the transitions among the three distinct styles of his work that I’ve seen.

Bill’s paintings these days are split between his sea/landscapes and the color area paintings which are his current passion.

If you’re familiar with Bill’s work, you know how different these are. If you’re not familiar with his work, then look at Bill’s work on The Second Hanging (http://thesecondhanging.com) because we have examples of both styles.

What most people don’t know (except for lucky Shelly Zacher who owns one), is that Bill also did wonderfully orientalist pieces.

So we have these massive changes in style and I really was curious about how the orientalist pieces transitioned into the ‘scapes and then into the color area paintings.

Bill’s core technique is pouring paint. He uses oils – so imagine him buying a tube of oil paint and a gallon of oil and thinning, thinning, thinning until it’s pourable. My mental image – which isn’t the reality – is more like the sorcerer’s apprentice with flagons, pestles, rags, brooms, and mysterious substances. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case; Bill’s studio is pristine. It looks like he doesn’t work there, which we know isn’t the case because Bill is constantly painting.

(Funny aside: Dorothy Culpepper also pours paint. She’s in her late 70’s and had a bad argument with her daughter last year because Dorothy was using the daughter’s basement as a studio when she visited. The mixing part wasn’t bad at all and the pouring part wasn’t too bad but the spatters from throwing the paint upset the daughter. And they say men are slobs.)

But this is about Bill. So let’s go back to core technique because that’s where Bill took me in this conversation about style transitions.

The second component in Bill’s technique is the painting surface. Bill pours paint; he doesn’t puddle paint. That means that his painting surfaces has to be rock hard with no give. Bill pours the paint onto the surface and then tips it this way and that way and every way you can think of to flow, overflow, blend and meld. A finished painting might have 20 layers which is why the ‘scapes have such wonderful depth and complexity. Given drying times, it might take 2 years to complete a painting.

Bill says that he’s been doing the ‘scapes since approximately 2002. He wanted to do something which felt more free-spirited and modern, the conceptual source for the color area paintings.

One of the wonderful things about Bill is that he always looks to the future. The past is something that happened. The work he did in the past just isn’t interesting to him. He’d much rather talk about the work he’s planning.

Bill participated in a group show this autumn at the New York School of Interior Design. One of the pieces he exhibited as a surfboard painted on both sides with color areas. (It’s available for sale on The Second Hanging but do look at it.) The curves and textures made Bill wonder what would happen if canvases didn’t have sharp edges or corners. He also is wondering what would happen if they weren’t flat. Lastly, he’s wondering about pouring paint in three dimensions, very tall three dimensions. I can’t wait to see what happens but I think Bill is about to become a painting sculptor.

The orientalist paintings? Bill was asked to do a series of floral paintings on paper for a show. He didn’t much enjoy doing them, even though the show sold out, and hasn’t done another one since. Lucky Shelly Zacher (ask her about bringing home the unwrapped painting in the rain).


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