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Hillbilly Hell
simplified image, pop art text, childlike, painting, acrylic on canvas,contrast, bold text, country and western reference, clumsy, ambiguous, song title, popular western song culture, , painting, text
description

In Hillbilly Hell, as with many of his works, John Will has produced an image that is intentionally clumsy; it is simplified to an extreme, with only a brown background and a red stripe behind a line of text.

Will’s clumsiness with his paint here is not because of a lack of experience or ability, but is part of his objective in creating this work. He has used the paint as a small child might use paint, but without any attachment to representing something the way a  cameraIn photography, a tool for producing photographs, having a lightproof enclosure with an aperture and a shuttered lens through which the image of an object is focused and recorded on a photosensitive film or plate. In video, a device that receives the primary image on a light-sensitive cathode tube and transforms it into electrical impulses. (Artlex.com) Find out about 35-mm cameras at Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/135_film  would. Instead, the  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  acts as a background, or a support, for the text. The flash of red behind the words reads almost like the stroke of a highlighter.

The text that reads “TAKE ME BACK TO HILLBILLY HELL” is printed in capital letters, and the letters themselves do not stand out as decorative. The voice - the tone or the style of linguistic thought - used to produce this text is simplistic, too, as it offers a simple command. But this simplicity is a disguise for the complex relationships between these words--is the speaker/writer requesting that we “take him back,” or is this a sarcastic demand? Is “HILLBILLY HELL” a hell for hillbillies, or a hell made of hillbillies? Because John Will is a western Canadian painter (he lives and teaches in Calgary, Alberta), can we gather that he is making a sarcastic criticism of his surroundings?  Or is HILLBILLY HELL another place entirely?
 
These questions may have answers, but they are not to be found in the work. In this painting, Will has left us deliberately confused about his intent, unsure of whether he is sincere or sarcastic. It is this mischievousness and Will’s readiness to leave his viewer guessing at his intentions that make this seemingly-simple  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  one that challenges us as viewers. Will proves with this work that the artist does not need to make images if he can conjure them, by forcing us to picture just what it is that his text means, Will has left us less with a finished artwork and more with a set of image instructions, which we are then free to interpret.

additional resources Things to Think About

Andy Warhol

  • Find out more about the practice and life of Andy Warhol, America’s best-known pop artist, to answer the following question: how did Warhol’s art reflect American life, and how did Warhol’s life reflect his artwork?  You may want to start your research here:
Studio Activity

Paint the text

  • Choose a book and open it as quickly as you can to a random page.
  • Look at the page and copy the very first sentence that catches your attention--this may be the first sentence on the page, but not necessarily.
  • Once you are finished, decide how you would like your images displayed; are they better in a row, a column, a square, in separate groupings, or displayed only individually?

You can also perform the above activity with a piece of text you stumble across in another setting.  For example, maybe you have seen some graffiti somewhere that you could use as inspiration.

References

Author unknown.  ‘Chris Cran Lives!’  Artichoke, Vol 06 No 01, 1994.

Murphy, Mike.  ‘A Night Calgary Will Never Forget.’  Artichoke, Vol 05 No 02, 1993.

Whyte, Ryan.  ‘The Alberta Biennial.’  Artichoke, Vol 08 No 03, 1996.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning