Pop Goes the Work of Centuries

Bill George is a master interpreter.
Portrait by Colby Rabon

Bill George paints everyday objects that would normally go unnoticed, and certainly aesthetically unappreciated. He transforms them from obscurity to a place of heightened importance and beauty, through meticulous painting-from-life realism that honors the great Masters, including Baroque painters like Rembrandt and Caravaggio. 

But George’s artistic choices also sometimes reveal a keen tendency toward Pop Art sensibility. After all, this is an artist who attended the High School of Art & Design and The Art Students League in New York  before opening his own successful graphic-arts firm on high-profile Madison Avenue. Ten years ago, tired of northern winters, he retired to Asheville and began studying at the now-defunct Fine Arts League of the Carolinas (founded by world-renowned fresco artist and realist painter Benjamin F. Long, IV). For five years, George learned 17th-century techniques of drawing, painting, sculpting, and fresco.

Paper Curls #3

His graphic-arts background is insinuated in his expressive portraits of Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis — and in his boldly colorful paintings of classic muscle cars and rusting pickup trucks. His series of interpreted figurative paintings, an homage to classic luminaries including Vermeer, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and Frederic Leighton, takes off in a totally different direction. Nevertheless, a subtle nod to mod is implied, thanks to his decision to paint those gorgeous larger-than-life works on functional hollow-core doors — the ordinary kind sold at Home Depot. 

In another series, Rock, Paper, Scissors, George explored the potential outcomes of that age-old hand game. He primarily paints with traditional oils on canvas or wood, and makes and sells prints on aluminum of many of his originals. 

Warhol

“I am a little unusual,” George acknowledges. “Most artists have a style, subject matter, and a certain kind of painting and stay with it. I don’t fall into that category. Now I’m doing semi-abstract paintings from life with these pieces of curled paper left over from the Rock, Paper, Scissors series. I took a strip of it and ran it along my desk, and it curled up. I started thinking, ‘What can I do with these?’” That led to his current Paper Curl series of paintings, which elevates mundane debris — destined for the trash bin — to the level of fine art. He points out that even painting a still life can be an aspect of painting from life (more commonly thought of as figurative work with live models, or landscapes painted in nature). 

Midori Goto

“You learn much more doing still life from life, versus painting from photographs,” George explains. “The light will be one way, and then all of a sudden it all changes. I have my easel set up with a canvas and a chair in one spot. I rearrange the [paper] curls, then go back to my chair to see how it looks. That can take hours until I get the lighting where I want it and can proceed.” 

But, he predicts, he’ll soon be off on another creative trajectory. “I just can’t stay in one groove; I have to constantly keep it interesting for myself.”

Art door (after Leighton’s Odalisque)

Bill George, Asheville. The artist’s still lifes and other paintings are represented by Asheville Gallery of Art (82 Patton Ave., ashevillegallery-of-art.com). For more information about George’s art doors, visit billgeorge.net.

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