Billy Cone is the grandnephew of Etta and Claribel Cone who famously collected the work of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and other modern painters with whom they socialized before bequeathing their collection to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Cone painted on and off since the 1980’s as well as photographing cities of Europe and the U.S., seriously pursuing an art career in 2000.
Traveling extensively between the U. S. and Europe—from his native North Carolina to New York, Los Angeles and Miami; Paris, Venice and London—Cone finds depth in the faces, places, nature, sculpture and architecture. He has an affinity for detail, color and light.
Mapping the landscape of human emotion, Billy captures range and depth in subtle nuances—variations in the arrangement of facial features and hands. Rooted in the juxtaposition of ideals espoused by the Abstract Realism Movement, his artistic journey, making the transition from photographic prints to drawings on paper and paintings on canvas over a decade ago, has been an organic transcendence.
Studies in portraiture at SPEOS Paris Ecole de Photographie in 2002 led to the creation of a body of work inspired by Parisian statuary in places like Le Pere Lachaise cemetery. Billy found the stone faces filled with emotion, and his contrasty grainy black and white images contributed a timeless quality to his catalogue, a hardbound folio, “Living Statues Photographies.” His work was featured in a solo photography exhibition at Mark Hachem Gallery, Paris, in Spring 2004. Original black and white prints are still available from his time living in Italy and France in the 1990’s. These jewels on Bergger Paper, printed in a Parisian darkroom, appreciate in value daily.
What followed until 2009 was an obsession with capturing human expression and was eventually compiled into the 2014 release of “FEMME,” a collection of black and white portraits of women of different cultures and nationalities: Native American, Russian, Cameroonian, Vietnamese, Thai women all found in Paris and here in America.
Cone continued full steam with his fine art after 2007. His portraits or FACETURES, of known and unknown personalities, mostly women, allow him more control than photography over his subject. These paintings are five feet tall. In the Half & Half series, he combines iconic black and white photographs with line drawings to mint hybrids like Albrecht Durer, The Mona Lisa, Maria Callas, and Josephine Baker to add encore a new audience.
His drawings are extraordinary. He does portraits and high heels in black.
Prismacolor markers. The shoes are simple and fun renditions of a woman’s most sought-after accessory. The heels and the faces look smart framed in black wood and white mats with a gold line around them. But all that said, Billy Cone is first and foremost “un chasseur d’images” –a photographer. He catches the unexpected in an ephemeral image.
Billy took up sculpting from clay in the 2010’s under the tutelage of a master potter named Hiroshi Sueyoshi. Since then, he has done numerous full head faces and hand-built boxes from clay. Three years ago, his neighbor invited him to his home to create a work. Bob provided the perfect environment for Billy to thrive on making his own Blue Nude. This year of the virus Carolina Bronze bronzed the Blue Nude, and Billy helped patina her in an attractive bluish green color. Just like his black and white photography she will be done in editions of 12 with 2 artist proofs. Another nude in bronze will be released in June.
Billy Cone has been a volunteer art supervisor for at-risk kids and supporter of DREAMS Center for Art Education in Wilmington, NC and was appointed by former Governor Mike Easley to serve on the North Carolina State Art Society board of the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, 2007-2010.