Danny Heller has carved his niche out in the art world as the “photo-realistic mid-century architecure paintings” guy. If you've seen a good painting of Southern California modernist homes in the last few years, chances are it was by him. His success is due to his thorough exploration of the subject, both technically and thematically. In his second solo show, Future Perfect, at George Billis Gallery he continues this line of work but with a bit of a surrealist twist.
With this new series, Heller presents us with a darker view of Los Angeles. Although night scenes are not new to the artists, these dim paintings differ from his typical bright and sunny paintings of California. These somber paintings of empty houses after dark leave us with a sense of loneliness. With titles like “Waiting”, “Before the Storm”, and “Anticipation”, there is certainly a level of anxiety that the paintings give off. The lighting aids in this respect as well, with dramatic shadows and green and blue glows that give these scenes an unnatural look.
Heller may be most known for his houses, but there are other motifs in his work as well. Cars show up in much of his work, but in this series there is only a single painting. Unlike the smooth waxed finish of his other cars, here we have a beat up piece of junk. Further contrast is created by the fact that this is actually the brightest painting in the series. The artist also seems to have a thing for chairs. Stylish modern chairs sit there longing to be put to use. They compliment the homes nicely. Lamps and lights also play an important role, tying the narrative of the painting to it's ambiance.
While sticking with the photo-realistic style, these paintings also introduce a subtle drip technique. At times this gives the illusion that the scene is melting under the heat of the lamps. But in other places the paint melts through coffee tables or plants and they read more like paint drips on a canvas, bringing the viewer out of the scene. In his statement the artists asks us, what has become of the idyllic utopia sought in the 1950's? What of the American dream? With the housing market collapsed and the auto-industry in the junkyard, it seems the modernist ethos is struggling to deliver its promise.
Words and images by Noé Gaytán.