Art Can Save Lives

Billy Hahn is a New Jersey based artist whose work ranges from paintings, to three dimensional stuffed creatures, masks, collages and insanely cool installations. He is living proof that art has the power to heal even in the darkest of times. He spent his early 20's in Brooklyn doing some crazy things and has one hell of a story to tell that will inspire us all to stay true to ourselves and keep it real. 

Some of Billy's collages

Some of Billy's collages

A: What is the inspiration behind your work?

B: What inspires me most is having an idea and being able to execute it. Whenever I see something that really grabs my attention whether it be in nature, from other people, or just the revolving of life itself, knowing that I can make that idea a reality is what inspires me. The overall meaning behind my work is my heart. Every emotion inside of me that people generally don't get to see is what my work is all about, the rawness of emotions that no one wants to convey, the things you can't really say out loud. Art is not separate from my life, I look and see everything as a whole. I create art for myself, it is the only thing that keeps me level. 

My art is based off of my deep imagination, my dreams and desires. It's my world from A to Z. It all started in college when I started making masks out of paper mache. The first mask that I ever created was a character called Bush Monster for an exhibition that I was in around that time. The whole concept of creating characters came from that time. I started creating more masks, each one a different character with a different name. After college I moved to Bushwick and started to make masks and put costumes together for the band that I was in. I would customize the whole setup. I would also wear the masks and sell my art on the street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of Buffet Magazine

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of Buffet Magazine

It evolved into making settings to evoke feeling and that's exactly what I created for the show entitled "Into My Brain We Go". It allowed people to connect with my imaginative level. The feeling of the fog, the cave, the sound, and the smell allowed people to connect with an alternate reality. 

Installation shots 

Installation shots 

A: What life experiences have you gone through that are reflected in your art?

B: I've loved, I've hated, I forgave, I've lived in a city and I've lived in the South. I have camped out in Miami Beach, I've been to rooftop orgy's, I've seen my peers pass away, and have almost lost my own life. I've been assaulted more than once, I've seen people held up at gun point, and I've skinny dipped in the East River. I've watched my apartment burn in flames, I've been pampered, and I've been broke. I have struggled, I have helped, I've done good, I've done bad. I'm the yin and yang, the black and white, the DIRTY DUNDEE and the Laughing Lemon Legs.

A: So would you say that art has helped you through difficult times? 

B: Of course, art is the only thing that I can turn to, to let my emotions out instead of keeping them bottled up inside. Art is basically what is keeping me alive right now as we speak. If I did not have art in my life I would be dead, which is an intense statement and sad to say but art is really that powerful. 

"Art has saved my life" 

I say this because I was addicted to drugs and art has been the only thing that has helped me get through the darkness. Art is the only thing that I feel such real passion for and that gives me something back in return. When I am making art nothing else in the world matters...it is the only thing that truly makes me happy. Being addicted to drugs was swallowing my life. If I didn't have art to turn to it would have swallowed me, the drugs would have killed me. 

Art is definitely the only thing keeping me sober, if I didn't have art I would be lost. When I feel like I am going to use, I ask myself, would you rather be high or making art? Being high is short lived and art has a lasting effect. It helps me stay focused and empowers me to stay sober and serve as a constant reminder that I don't need drugs. The drugs were what was holding me back. It took me a while to realize that. The whole time I was using drugs I was aware that I was ruining my life, but that's the worst part about addiction, you just don't care about anything. 

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

A: What does it feel like to be addicted?

B: It feels completely helpless. Truly sickening and awful. Being truly addicted to drugs is possibly the worst thing you can feel. It's like being in your own jail and not being able to live while it is slowly killing you. You are stuck in this tunnel vision and can't think about or see anything else and you don't even like the way you are living...it is slowly killing you and you don't even give a shit. 

A: Did you find that the art you were creating while you were using was different than the art you create when you're sober?

B: I have tried to look at my art that way but my art never changes. It was a little darker when I was using, but I always make art that has a dark side. You look at my work and you see the darkness, it's creepy but colorful and exciting at the same time. I had been on drugs for so long that I'm not even sure how to separate the two to make a comparison. I truly don't know if I can see a difference from the art I created when I was using versus when I am sober because now that I'm sober, I am still making the same things. My ideas are always there no matter if I am high or not. 

The thing is, the mindset when I'm on drugs doesn't seem different, it's the internal feelings that are different when I am using. It could depend on the type of drugs you are taking because some people who take hallucinogens have come up with different, crazy ideas they might not have if they were sober but the drugs that I was using were not like that. My ideas and inspiration have always come from within. I can trace that back to when I was a little kid. I was always being clever and creating. 

A: How did you get sober?

B: My parents have supported me and helped me get sober. I truly have the most magical loving family and was able to go to them and tell them that I really needed help and we devised a plan together. Part of that plan has been for me to use my hard earned money in a way that benefits me to have a brighter future versus pissing it away on drugs and putting things in my body that have no purpose. I want things out of life, and the longer I stay sober the stronger I get. As I started to get back to my true self again, back to that mindset of focus and awareness, I started to ask myself, "do I really want that kind of life for myself?" 

I know what I want and I am going for it. The past few months that I have been sober, I've had this fire in me and it would crush my soul if I went back to what I was doing before. 

A: What is the message that you want to send out to the world through your art?

B: That life is worth living. Be happy, laugh more, and judge less. Express yourself truly from within and find what you love to do because you feel it so much it makes you shiver. Don't waste your energy on negativity, take a deep breath, daydream, eat an extra cookie, and smile at a stranger. Be strong and work hard, always stay focused, and find your candy store. 

Billy working in his studio at Art Space NJ

Billy working in his studio at Art Space NJ

You can learn more about Billy and his work at www.billyhahn.com