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Omaha Magazine

Just Beginning

Jul 18, 2014 09:59AM ● By Kristen Hoffman
"Art is time,” observes artist Bill Hoover. “You need to take time and spend time thinking about it.” That’s why five years ago the painter decided to leave his job as a first-grade para-educator at Liberty Elementary School and committed to becoming a full-time studio artist. By that time, he had been moonlighting at his avocation for close to two decades, and his distinctive paintings—a blend of modern and folk art—had gained him significant recognition on the local visual arts scene. It was a commitment that required a leap of faith as well as a trust in his own talent, and fortunately for him, the decision has paid off both professionally and personally.

Hoover didn’t begin his creative life as a painter. “As a child I was always writing,” he remembers. “I loved writing ever since I was a kid, and I’ve written hundreds of short stories and plays.” That desire to tell stories also emerged musically, with the artist spending several years performing in a local band and writing songs. None of those endeavors, however, resonated as much as making a pastel mark on paper or applying paint to canvas. When he hung a painting in Lisa’s Radial Café, and it sold, Hoover knew he had met his true creative calling.

That calling draws on myriad influences. There are references to modernists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, and muralist Diego Rivera. His work is also a nod to Mexican folk art and outsider art. Nonetheless, the style is entirely Hoover’s. “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” he notes. “Most of my art comes from the interior and has gone through changes. Some of it has darkened. That’s [the result of] going through life’s different experiences and spending more time on the work.”

Even with some of the darker tones, many of his paintings still have an exuberant quality to them. Hoover’s figurative works have a childlike naiveté that communicates a sweet gentleness as is particularly evident in several pieces commissioned by OneWorld Community Health Centers last year. His abstract works are similarly characterized by a straightforward simplicity, with hatches of black and gray lines often punctuated by ribbons of bright color.

Hoover enjoys engaging in mini artistic experiments, ones he undertakes purely to challenge himself and keep his skills sharp. One recent endeavor involved dividing a canvas into grids and working on a single square for precisely 40 minutes before finishing and spraying it with fixative. It was a deliberate sort of spontaneity, an oxymoron perhaps, but a nonetheless accurate description of an exercise that forced him to create without overthinking or micro-conceptualizing.

Hoover is happy with the way his work is progressing and enjoys the unexpected twists and turns his paintings take as his style continually evolves. “I’m being looser with the materials,” he observes. “I never know what’s next. I never know what a painting is going to be until I’m doing it. It reveals itself as I’m doing it. The creative process is fascinating.”

That creative process has flourished in the studio he maintains in the Mastercraft Building in North Downtown, which he moved into almost two years ago when his work began outstripping his home. It’s a light-filled atmosphere conducive to creating, displaying and selling art, and Hoover finds the space has allowed his artistic practice to grow in new directions. “A fish will get as big as the pond it’s in,” he chuckles, “and now I have space to grow.”

Hoover is also happy to share that space. He regularly hosts exhibitions for other artists to showcase their work and, so far, he has shown art by Shea Wilkinson and Maggie Weber among several others. “It’s a great gallery space for emerging artists,” he notes.

Of course, Hoover does occasionally fret about being able to remain a full-time artist. “The biggest struggle is how to make a career as an artist work,” he muses. “There are no role models. To make it as a living requires a lot of sales. It’s like being a fisherman. It’s not always guaranteed you’re going to catch enough fish. But I’ve always been taken care of. It always comes through.”

Reflecting on his decision six years ago to follow his passion, Hoover has no regrets. “Turning 40, I was a bit at a crossroads,” he explains. “I asked myself why I wasn’t doing it full time. Now that I am, I love this. I feel like I could be here all the time.”  The painter pauses a moment, and then grins. “I still feel like I’m just beginning, and it’s a great feeling.”

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