American Midcentury Modern
La Fiambrera presents American Midcentury Modern – the second exhibition in Spain by the painter Danny Heller. Further demonstrating his technical and stylistic mastery and characteristic colour palette, Heller’s studies feature buildings by the masters of the Mid-Century Modern era. The illustrations include designs by such irrefutable architects as Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler and John Lautner.
Heller has chosen a series of the most representative structures of the period that have become icons of Western aesthetic. These masterful examples have become references in popular culture having been photographed, painted and used as film sets on countless occasions. In American Midcentury Modern you are invited to rediscover these landmark constructions via Danny Heller’s luminously realistic reconstructions.
Thirteen original paintings have been specially prepared for the show as gouaches on paper and oils on canvas. The artist’s previous works are also on display alongside these.
“The story of American midcentury Modern architecture actually starts much earlier than the middle of the twentieth century. The foundations of the momentous stylistic movement were laid in the late twenties and early thirties, as European architects where beginning to form a new visual language, one in which ornament was stripped away and the geometric essence of a building was exposed. These ideas and even the architects themselves, would immigrate to America and join the melting pot of cultures to create a style all their own and push the limits of the medium. Aided by opportunity and advances in technology, this group of visionaries would shatter pre-conceived notions of architecture and spatial thinking, going on to produce some of the most ground breaking architecture ever created.Danny Heller, Desert Hot Springs, California, February 2022
My latest painting series begins with Modernism’s early influence in America and how it evolved through these different architects. Starting with Frank Lloyd Wright, I show how the fundamentals of his work informed the minimal, streamlined architecture that his students would go on to produce. Associates like Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, and John Lautner would combine European influences, teachings from Wright, and the advent of new materials and techniques to push the medium of architecture to new heights, literally. Forms became more dynamic and daring, focusing more on the interplay between natural settings and the human-made environment. The projects I’ve chosen to paint in this series traces this evolution, from basic post-and-beam construction in wood and blocks to the development of steel structures and sprayed concrete. As the science of building progressed, so too did the imaginations of the architects. In order to truly convey how fantastical these masterpieces are, I’ve rendered them realistically in gouache and oil paint, capturing their nuanced details and their bold overall shapes. I’ve also enhanced the color saturation to communicate the bright optimism these structures signaled to the world, especially in the post-war era.
In painting these examples of iconic midcentury Modern architecture, my hope is to show how their development was not immediate, but rather a complex process. It would be informed by different architects from diverse backgrounds, new discoveries in construction engineering and technology, and by the environment itself which Modernism strived to incorporate more and more. It was a process that today we can study and learn from, and hopefully incorporate into our approach for building tomorrow’s world.”
Danny Heller nace en Northridge (California) en 1982. Al crecer en el valle de San Fernando, el artista tiene la oportunidad de estudiar cuidadosamente el paisaje dorado de Los Ángeles, que en gran medida dará forma a su obra posterior. Estudia Bellas Artes en la Universidad de California en Santa Barbara, aprendiendo con el pintor paisajista Hank Pitcher, y capturando los paisajes costeros del norte de Los Angeles. Posteriormente se instala en el desierto de Mojave, en el valle de Coachella, y se concentra en retratar las imágenes (ahora) retro de la América Moderna de mitad del siglo XX, muy especialmente en la arquitectura, el diseño y la cultura del automóvil. Los cuadros de Danny Heller han podido verse en numerosas exposiciones individuales y colectivas, principalmente en California pero también en Nueva York, y su obra se puede encontrar en numerosas colecciones privadas e instituciones de todo el mundo (Fondation Colas en París, The Palm Springs Architecture and Design Center, etc.). American Midcentury Modern es la segunda exposición individual de Danny Heller en España, después de la titulada California Cool de 2018. Inicialmente prevista para abril de 2020 tuvo que posponerse por la pandemia de Coronavirus, teniendo finalmente lugar en marzo de 2022.
Interview with the artist
Danny, we would like the public, in addition to visually and emotionally enjoy your exhibition, can have a closer view on your career, your work and you as an artist, so they can know more about you and why you have done these beautiful paintings for American Midcentury Modern and no others, here go a few questions…
Besides being an artist, have you had any other jobs related with art?
I’ve apprenticed other artists, but not for very long – just when I was starting my career and I needed a little extra money.
You studied Fine Arts, but when did your career begin? What was the turning point?
After I graduated University, I was painting at night and working at a loan office during the day. When the recession hit, I was fired. That’s when I decided to focus more on my artwork and really pursue it. At that time, I also started showing regularly with a Los Angeles gallery which encouraged me to think of myself as a real artist.
Do you do commissioned works? Or just like to work on a free concept of your own? Is there any artistic field you would like to try that you haven’t done yet?
I’ll do commissions from time to time, but not very often. I’m usually too busy focusing on exhibits that I don’t have time for commissions. I prefer it that way – there are so many things I want to paint, I don’t have time to paint them all! I would like to explore digital drawing/painting apps to use as a tool. I think I could use new technology as a way to help make my painting process more efficient and to maybe make the paintings themselves better. Then I might have more time for commissions!
What’s the process you follow to make a painting?
I usually start by visiting places and taking a lot of photos. I need to be in the environment and see things in person to really understand the scale of the subject matter and the lighting. I then go through my photos and usually alter things using Photoshop to make a stronger composition or to see how cropping can affect the mood and message of an image. The next step is making a canvas: assembling stretcher bars, stretching canvas, and gessoing it. When it’s to my liking, I’ll use a projector to project the image onto the canvas and then I’ll start drawing it in. After that step, I usually sit with the drawing for a bit and adjust things so it’s just right. Then I proceed to paint with my oil paints. I usually put down a couple layers, correcting things, adjusting lighting, tweaking colors, until everything is just right and the surface is unified. After it dries, I varnish it and frame it and then I’m finished!
What does one of your works need to have for you to be satisfied with the result?
That’s the most difficult thing to figure out! Sometimes I think a painting will be a success based on the photo I’m using, but the end result isn’t as good. But sometimes it exceeds my expectations. I usually am satisfied when everything in the painting has received equal attention and nothing is ambiguous or confusing to the eye.
What would you say is your greatest ability when creating, and how have you been improving it over the years?
My greatest ability has to be my attention to detail. I love figuring out how things work, how things fit together, and even the history behind something. I think because I learn about these things before I start my paintings, it helps to inform them and make them better. I’ve been able to improve upon this by spending more time with my subject matter and trying to take photos and video from multiple angles at multiple times of the day. This allows me to understand the subject matter better and capture its true essence.
Is there any work that you consider especially important in your track record so far?
There have certainly been milestones in my artistic career, but it’s more difficult pinpointing exact paintings that have gotten me there. I will say that I did a very large painting for a French company in 2010 and this taught me how to work on a big scale. It was a challenge, but I learned how to approach a painting of that size and how to convey detail without getting too lost in it. I also think about some of my first New York paintings and how they taught me how to portray all the lines and details of a sprawling cityscape in an efficient way. But one of my most significant paintings was the first painting I did of a car with a chrome bumper. As soon as I painted the reflection on it in a convincing way, I knew I had unlocked the key to portraying cars (and eventually buildings) realistically.
What would be your ideal project? Where would you like to go professionally? And artistically?
My ideal project would be to do a Museum show. I would like the opportunity to focus on a subject for a long time, maybe a couple years, and do many paintings of it. A Museum show would allow me to work on a larger scale too, with paintings that could fill a whole room. It might also give me an excuse to try new mediums, bringing my subject matter into large scale drawings, collages, sculptures, and even a film component. When I do gallery shows, I’m very conscious of my time and I tend to stick to work that I know has a better chance of selling, either due to subject or to size. A Museum show would widen some of those parameters and allow me to experiment.
What are your artistic references, who and what inspires you, your influences?
I’ve always been inspired by bold artists that tend to break with tradition. People like Wayne Thiebaud, David Hockney, Edward Hopper, and Mary Blair. These artists were conscious not only of capturing the essence of their subject matter but portraying it as only they uniquely could (and can). They captured lighting in such a bold way and would always convey a mood more than focusing on capturing details. I would like my own work to follow suit and be more stylized and less focused on strict realism.
How do you face the creating process?
I’m always excited by the possibility of creating. Whether its approaching a single painting or a whole show, I love being able to come up with ideas and turn them into something tangible, something real. If I’m inspired by something – be it a building, a car, a movie, some history – I try to identify what exactly it is that has touched me and then share it with others via my artwork. That’s why I’m never stumped for subject matter – I love the act of creating and finding inspiration all around me.
How do you feel about this second solo exhibition in Madrid?
I couldn’t be happier to have my second show in Madrid! La Fiambrera Gallery is such a wonderful partner helping me grow professionally and artistically. The deep history of art in Madrid and Spain in general has made me very conscious of the talented artists that have come before me and has made me want to try to contribute something to that history. I get so excited knowing that my artwork will be part of the history of a cosmopolitan city like Madrid!
In this case, due to the pandemic, you’ve had plenty of time to create the exhibition because it was first scheduled to be exhibited on 2021!! How have you felt during this period?
It’s has been a long time in the making! I started some of the first paintings in 2019 and was on track to have a lot of work finished by the time the show was going to open in 2020. When the pandemic hit, I was obviously very disappointed, but I realized that at some point, this artwork would be exhibited. And I also realized I had more time to paint! So this show is a little larger than I originally planned and there are more locations included because I had more time to travel.
When you started the project for this exhibition, how did you choose the theme? Why these buildings and no others?
I wanted to do a show that focused more on architecture and less on cars, since I recently have been painting so many of them. I’m also a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and some other architects who didn’t quite fit in with my previous exhibits that focused on smaller, midcentury tract homes and homes in Palm Springs. After researching Frank Lloyd Wright and his legacy and who his students were, the theme became really apparent: the history of American midcentury Modern architecture, starting with Wright and going through many of the architects that evolved the style. I chose buildings that represented key points in the history of this architectural movement, as well as buildings I have visited and experienced in person. I had to be very selective, otherwise I could spend my whole life on this series!
Do you have a favorite image in the exhibition? Which one do you think represents better what you mean?
Each one of the paintings represents a different period in the development of Modernism and also in the careers of these architects. But I think my Chemosphere painting represents all of the architectural elements I am trying to highlight: the house is situated on the hillside, not in conflict with nature around it, but perfectly hovering within the lush vegetation. The large expanses of glass on the house bring in the panoramic view, making the transition between interior and exterior seamless. The engineering of the house was radical for the time, allowing the architect John Lautner to push his imagination, not being limited by the site or construction methods. It’s one of the most iconic examples of Modern architecture and my approach to painting it emphasizes how dramatically different it was and still is.
In Spain is difficult to make a career and a living if you are an artist, a few ones achieved their goals, but it’s really difficult. For an American artist, how difficult do you think is to make a living out of art? Is there any advice or suggestion that you would like give to those who are thinking of being an artist?
I think it’s probably universally difficult to become a professional artist. To make any money, you have to be good, but you can only be good if you’ve been doing it for a while. I started out thinking I would be an artist in the film industry and receive a guaranteed paycheck every week. But I didn’t like the work and I eventually saw that there are many different types of galleries that show artwork. My early paintings weren’t going to hang next to Picasso’s, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t sell my art. I don’t know if it’s because America has more of a consumer culture or if there are smaller galleries here giving new artists a chance, but I was able to start selling my artwork early on which gave me a lot of encouragement. I still had to work other jobs to pay my bills, but I began to establish my name and make better paintings. After many years of gallery shows and other opportunities, I started being recognized in newspapers and magazines, and I developed loyal collectors. By getting my name and artwork out into the public, I was able to grow. Most successful artists that I know have done the same thing. It takes a long time and a lot of work. My advice to other young artists is don’t be discouraged – be confident in your abilities and keep trying. Start small and work your way up.