By Gina Malone
Two significant things happened to Bill Hall when he moved to New York, planning to stay at least one year but not more than two. He met the woman, Sara, also an artist, who would become his wife. And he met an influential artist and printmaker, Robert Blackburn. “In 1947, Bob had established a collaborative print studio in New York, Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, that would eventually become a mecca for print artists from all over the world,” Bill says. “When I saw an ad for his studio, I decided to take my portfolio in and see if he had any work I could do. I didn’t know at the time that Bob wouldn’t let an interested printmaker leave his shop without helping them in some way. So I stayed there for four amazing years, developing etching skills and learning how to collaborate with artists.”
It was there at Bob’s shop where he met Sara. “Just about everything was new and exciting those first few years in the city, but none more so than Sara,” he says. “What else can I say? She is an artist, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and worked many years at Vogue magazine.” The timeline Bill set for himself when he left the South for the big city was abandoned. After his time at the Printmaking Workshop, he worked nearly 30 years as a master intaglio printer at Pace Editions in New York.
Bill had been set on a career in art from his early years growing up in south Alabama in a town of about 500 residents. “Though I was never really encouraged to become an artist, that was almost inevitable, I think,” he says. “It was something I was good at, especially drawing charcoal portraits.” He went to college at the University of Alabama, intending to become a commercial artist, with a stint in the Air Force before he attended the University of Texas for a master’s in art. “I soon decided I didn’t want an advertising career, but to teach at the college level and make my art instead,” he says. “It was a rash, youthful decision, but one I can’t regret.” He majored in painting and printmaking, and etching became his medium of choice. After a few years working as a draftsman and doing some teaching, he left his job in Galveston for New York City.
It was Penland School of Craft and a winter spent teaching master print classes there that would bring Bill and Sara to North Carolina. “I fell in love with Penland and became very interested in Asheville as a place to land after retirement,” Bill says. “It didn’t happen until five years later and a few scouting trips down with Sara, but, in 2015, we made the move.”
With the move, Bill no longer had use of a fully equipped studio or press, which led to new and fresh ways of creating. “I did have a lot of working proofs (prints that are good, but not good enough to sign), so I started cutting these up and making collages,” he says. “Then, instead of copper etching, I started making printing plates from paper board and using those proofs for collage material. This process is called collagraph—essentially making a collage and printing it.”
His works are abstract and geometrical, Bill says, but he sees the natural world in what he creates: references to objects, space and textured surfaces. “One could see them as topographical views,” he says. “Each collage develops organically without a preconceived idea. I start moving pieces around and glue them down as they seem to fit, with shape, color and texture being considered.” It is, at once, mental and intuitive. “I’m satisfied with the results when all the elements combine harmoniously, but with a certain amount of tension and spatial movement,” he adds. “When it’s going well, the piece seems to make itself.”