I think art should be fun. I think it should make the artist AND the viewer smile. I’m particularly drawn to pictures and graphics and 3-D pieces that are on the satirical or whimsical side. My husband likes pictures of things on water. Boats, birds, islands…..basically we have total opposite tastes in art. It made picking out things to hang on the wall virtually impossible for the first 10 years of our marriage. We finally settled on something that both of us liked…although I’m pretty sure he just said yes because I was pregnant and emotional, and bearing him his 4th child. It’s nothing special, just a grouping of metal plates from a store that I liked. I liked the colors, and the patterns that were printed on the plates. Basically, it worked.
Finding something to agree on (art-wise) is always going to be hard for us, but I think that if I showed him Billy’s stuff, he would enjoy it just as much as I do. It’s fun, and his pieces look like he’s painted them, even though they’re constructed with felt. They are so vibrant and easy to look at. I really do appreciate the work that must go into them. Meet Billy, and check out his amazing felt creations!
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Billy Kheel and I am an artist living in Los Angeles. I grew up in Florida and then Massachusetts and now I live in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles with my wonderful wife and two adorable kids.
What do you make or do?
I make images and sculptures out of fabric, working with felt applique as my primary medium. I concentrate on three main themes in my work: Sports, Vegan Taxidermy, and Urban Los Angeles.
Where can we find your creations?
You can see my work either on my website bkheel.com or at my Etsy shop which can be found at kheels.com. Also, if you were recently at Trencher in Echo Park, you would have seen my parade of stuffed felt characters (https://www.latimes.com/home/la-lh-felt-treatment-by-billy-kheel-20141211-story.html), which is based entirely on local neighborhood business signs.
Is there an interesting story behind the name of your business? How did the name come about?
My business is Kheel’s, a family name with deep roots in fabric. My great grandfather and his family were furriers from Eastern Europe who eventually opened a factory in the New York City garment district called The Kheel Building, which still stands today. The factory was innovative at the time because it made the entire jacket in the building, with each part made on a different floor.
When I started working with fabric, I remembered this piece of family history and wondered if my interest in working with fabric was somehow genetic. As a nod to my family I used the name and logo from Kheel’s Furs for my own business. One day I am going to open a Kheel’s Building West and make different parts of my crazy stuff on each floor.
How long have you been creating and is it your full-time job?
I have been creating my whole life (I began as painter) but only during the last few years has it become my full-time job. I started working with fabric as an art medium but soon discovered that I was interested in making multiples and finding different places to sell them – like Patchwork!
When you’re not making things, what do you do?
When I’m not making things I enjoy watching and thinking about sports, as well as getting on my bicycle and exploring Los Angeles with my kids. Both of these activities feed back into my work.
Is creativity a luxury or a necessity for you?
Creating is definitely more of a necessity for me. Creating is an integral part of my perfect day and I don’t feel completely satisfied unless I have a chance to work on making something new.
What obstacles have you had to overcome to lead a creative life?
Yes, I definitely heard that artists don’t make money throughout my career, but I think that is an antiquated way of thinking. If you sit in your room and make things and that’s it, then you won’t make any money. But if you get yourself out there and show people your work, the response you can get is amazing. I believe that creating things is only half the artistic process. The other half is showing it to people and seeing how they respond to it. And today, with the internet and all the great business tools that are available, there are so many more opportunities to expose your work to audiences you could basically never have reached 25 years ago.
Did someone in your family, a friend or teacher introduce you to your creative side or have they helped you along the way?
I can’t really point to a specific person that introduced me to my creative side, but if there was one thing I would point to it would be the city of Los Angeles. I lived in NYC and Miami before moving here and I never really found an inspiring creative community until I moved here. I think it’s the combination of the size and affordability of the eastern reaches of the city that attracts a lot of cool artists. I’ve also taken advantage of the art classes you can find in Los Angeles, which have given me the opportunity to meet and learn tricks of the trade from some pretty amazing artists.
Where do you find inspiration?
I try to find inspiration in the most unlikely places that I can. I am inspired watching NFL Football, or eating at a taco truck, or seeing a sign at a crappy old strip mall. I love being inspired by something you’ve never seen rendered in fabric. I think when people see something unique and unexpected it can jar them a little bit and provoke a reaction. I love when this happens in unexpected places.
What’s on the horizon for you and what you do?
I have a couple of projects I’m excited about right now. I’m doing an installation, of the Los Angeles River rendered in felt, at the Los Angeles County Store in Silverlake. I’ve been fascinated with the LA River for a while and I’m excited to depict it in all its glory – with the wildlife that is there as well as the trash and crazy stuff people dump or hide in there.
I’m also working on a show at Maggie Barry’s Fashion Space in Downtown Los Angeles. I want to do an installation that relates to the urban environment in LA, and I’m thinking Taco Trucks.
If money wasn’t an issue how would your life change with regards to your art?
I’m not sure my life would change that much, although when I find help sewing and making things I wouldn’t have to worry as much about how much to pay them.
What would be your perfect day off?
My perfect day off wouldn’t be that different from my perfect day on. I would wake up and spend time with my family, get out and see something cool in Los Angeles and then when they take naps get into the studio and make something. When everyone wakes up we’d meet up and go see some friends.
What inspiring advice would you give to other creatives be they established or just starting out?
I think the main piece of advice would be to get yourself and your work out in front of people as much as possible. You have to make your own opportunities. I don’t know that there are many people that have been discovered sitting at home.
My other piece of advice would be to have kids. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing your kids in the morning and knowing you have to work to take care of them and their future. I think it makes you more serious about your time and what you are doing. Also, seeing the world for the first time through your kids’ eyes is always inspiring.