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Press Release

Release Date: May 23, 2017

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office



B.L. Hensley, a Chickasaw artist from Sulphur, Oklahoma, brings a modern twist to Chickasaw culture and art.

Since he was a child, Hensley has been interested in art. He would spend time drawing, and creating things with his mother and has always used his creativity to think outside of the box.

“I have a lot of techniques and I am always trying to do something a little different. I try to paint with many different tools,” Hensley said. “I think as a kid my mom instilled it in me to be ‘out there.’”

Hensley started taking art classes his freshman year at Sulphur High School.

“When I first started in school, I worked with colored pencil and charcoal and I did pen and ink for a long time after that,” he said.

Hensley is one of 116 elite Native American artists selected to participate in the 2017 Artesian Arts Festival Saturday, May 27, in Sulphur.

After high school, Hensley attended the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) in Chickasha, Oklahoma where he started taking courses in painting. Hensley says that he is a mostly-self-taught artist, and he did not want to take any of the advanced courses for painting.

“I feel like when you take those courses you start to paint like that person,” he said. “I wanted to find my own way to paint, so that’s what I started doing.”

Hensley’s previous work was with portraiture, pencil drawings, pen ink, wood cuts and printmaking, but for the past five years painting has been his chief medium of expression.

“I became a full-time artist only making money when I sold a painting. My wife was very understanding, and to be an artist, you have to have that kind of support,” he said. “I started to get better and better the more I worked on my art. Now it’s taken off pretty well.”

Hensley said there are times when he has up to 15 paintings going on at once. He has numerous techniques he uses to create his work, such as using a trowel (a small handheld tool with a flat, pointed blade) to create lines and spread paint over his emerging artwork.

“I just build it. I start with the background and might start off with lines and go over it with a trowel. Pin-striping is also something new that I have started,” he said. “I just go with it, I’m not afraid to mess a painting up. I can mess things up really quick, but I’m not scared to try something different and see what people think of it.”

Being born with creativity has always allowed Hensley to think outside of the box. He says he has always been different from most artists. He uses some old images and the Chickasaw culture to help popularize the rich history of the Chickasaw people.

“I feel like most people, even in Oklahoma, don’t know who these people (in the paintings) are,” he said. “I feel like if we get them out there, then maybe people will understand and will learn more about who we are as a Tribe and where we came from.”

Standard Native American imagery is one of many things Hensley uses in his art, but he does his best not to limit himself.

“I am also leaning toward losing some of the imagery, and going back to being a little more abstract,” he said. “When you start doing certain things and people like it, you feel like you have to keep doing that. I don’t want to trap myself into that kind of thinking.”

Hensley said painting is something he loves, and he paints how he feels at the time. Painting for him is not about making a statement, it’s about letting all of his feelings come out.

“People see things and they think things, but art is what you make it. Everyone has their own opinion of what they think you’re trying to say in your art. I would say my art is more emotional, rather than political or anything else. If you look at my art, I think you can kind of understand who I am, and get a feel for what I do.”

Hensley has been able to make a successful career out of his artwork. He currently has two studios, one at his home in Norman, Oklahoma, and one at the ARTesian Gallery and Studios, in Sulphur, Oklahoma. His work can be found at www.billyhensley.com.

Hensley’s work will join over 100 other artists in displaying their work Saturday, May 27, at the Artesian Arts Festival, located at the Artesian Plaza adjacent to the Artesian Hotel and Spa, 1001 W. First Street, Sulphur, Oklahoma. The show is open to the public at no charge.

The Artesian Arts Festival welcomed more than 6,500 to last year’s festival.

For more information about the Artesian Arts Festival, contact the Chickasaw Nation Division of Arts & Humanities at (580) 272-5520, or by email at artistinfo@chickasaw.net.

Last Updated: 09/16/2016