Danny Heller is a Los Angeles based painter who takes the suburban territories of Southern California as his subject. Raised in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, Heller’s paintings reveal a sincere appreciation for the aesthetic of Mid-Century Modernist architecture and an interest in the ideals that the suburbs can represent. Heller’s paintings are exemplary in their technical merit as well as their intelligent historical orientation. However, what truly makes Heller’s paintings distinct is not only how eloquently they depict their subject or how vividly they convey a sense of place. Rather, Heller’s paintings are distinct in how they combine these attributes to express genuine affection for their subjects.
Many technical and formal aspects of Heller’s work are analogous to the physical properties of the Modernist homes depicted. Heller’s well organized compositions are elegant and economical. Forms are paired down and surfaces smoothed, even idealized. There are many long, straight lines that create a sense of dynamism that is an effective counterpoint to the many low rectangles of the Mid-Century suburban landscape. In this way Heller’s work refers to the Modern acknowledgement of the physical flatness and literal surface of a painting.
Pre-dating Modernism, Romanticism provides further context for Heller’s work. Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting commonly referred to as “The Oxbow” is a painting of a specific place that contains in its forms certain American ideals regarding the westward expansion of the time. The dark untamed left (or western) side of the painting is being encroached upon, it’s clouds chased away, by stewardship from the right (east). Human endeavor and nature are in harmonious accord. On the western shore of the river a painter depicts the scene. From the wilderness he views manicured hills and divided farmland.
While plainly stating an appreciation for the Modern American aesthetic of the mid-twentieth century, Heller’s work also draws from the Romantic tradition of landscape painting exemplified by Cole in the mid-nineteenth century.
The many technical merits of Heller’s paintings are put in the service of tribute to specific places, the renderings of which are literal and scholarly in their faithfulness. Within this technical feat there is a completely un-ironic editorializing that makes Heller’s work Romantic. The tract homes are depicted in absolute harmony, both with the landscape and the physical properties of the paintings themselves; they are depicted as a fruit of the southern California landscape, never as banal or blight.
Danny Heller’s work is extraordinary in the way that it’s painted and the historical referents he employs to pay tribute to a style and a landscape for which he has affection. The paintings replace sentimentality with a studied homage; they not only depict locales but also convey ideals that extend throughout the history of painting.
See more of Danny Heller’s paintings at http://dannyhellerart.com