5 Active Painters Inspiring My Studio Practice

5 Active Painters Inspiring My

Studio Practice

Danny Heller

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley of California, Danny Heller’s paintings capture America’s mid-century identity. Playing with lighting, dramatic angles, and use of highly calculated colors, Heller creates exciting scenes that capture architectural elements with paint. His realistic painting  style creates harmony when the moment design and environment come together to showcase the compelling characteristics of these spaces. In his artist statement, He describes his role as an artist as “a type of documentarian of an endangered architectural culture in America”. For Danny, these paintings are highly personal, focusing on childhood locales set to the era recounting the times of his parents’ and grandparents’ generations. (Heller, n.d.) 

I first stumbled upon his work in the August 2019 issue of American Art Collector. Heller’s paintings absolutely mesmerized me. His fine-tuned renderings of pool scenes and architecture of the west coast had a profound impact on me as an artist. He helped me build a ‘visual dialogue’- compiling some of the iconic imagery that comes to mind when I think of SoCal and the west coast. 

From that August issue of American Art Collector, I first fell in love with his painting from 2016 titled, Poolside Lounge Chairs.

Poolside Lounge Chairs by Danny Heller. Oil on canvas, 20x26", 2016.

This poolside picture is an exceptional formal perspective. The picture showcases a structurally sound composition complimented by a dynamic linear patterning of crisp white lounge chairs, submerged baby blue pool steps, and the towering palm tree clusters of the background. This painting stands like a still out of a Hollywood film reel. The illustrious stillwater reads as a mirror to the sky, reflecting the picture perfect weather that initially seduced me into recurring daydreams about Southern California.

Cadillac In The Driveway, by Danny Heller. Oil on panel, 11x14", 2020.

    

Cadillac In The Driveway is another quintessential Danny Heller piece. This painting maximizes the use of color. Situated in the driveway, Heller reverberates rosy pinks from the classic Thunderbird to the front door of this west coast ranch. This thunderbird, best characterized as the ‘shiny new toy’, draws from the long lineage of 20th century west coast machismo when we think of car, machine, and surfboard culture. From the car to the house, the exterior walls juxtapose an exciting temperature divide- We go from a soothing cool blue grey and quickly enter a gorgeous and subtly warming glow of casted light that reappears across the awnings, garage, and rooftop. This sunsoaked composition taught my eyes to ‘idealize the ordinary’ which is somewhat of a recurring theme in another gorgeous painting titled, Butterfly Roof and Inner Tube.

Butterfly Roof and Inner Tube by Danny Heller. Oil on canvas, 38x54", 2016.

    

This piece truly transforms ‘the ordinary’. Heller’s attention to temperature shifts across this composition transforms a typical landscape into an intimate moment silently immersed in one’s backyard. The light leaks casted from the slat roofing produces a time lapse transcending a moment in time. The patio of spotted golden planks usher in the sun’s presence without notice. The icy sheen of the water’s surface reflects those tall scale windows- emblematic of the iconic architecture of homes in California.

    

Beyond just technical skill, Danny Heller’s captivates me. His portfolio stands as visual evidence of what I can aspire to create with my own imagery and storytelling. His use of temperature and color shows me how the ordinary world around me can be transformed. His translations of everyday objects like automotive, pool tubes, and palm trees (to name a few) create a visual vernacular of west coast icons to draw upon in my studio practice. Transcending the natural world to an idealized synthetic display of existence takes the viewer for a wild ride through time and space. I look forward to continuing to see his future work and following his artistic pursuits.

Richard Blunt

    Richard Blunt is an English fine artist born and raised in the West Midlands. Creativity has always run in his family- his father worked as an art restorer and his grandfather a novice painter in his own right. Blunt paints as a full-time practice from his dedicated studio in his adopted hometown of Cardiff. Today, his work is celebrated both nationally and internationally. In 2018, he signed with Wishbone Publishing- a fine art fixture of the English art world (now) for over half a decade.

    Blunt’s style is best described as ‘contemporary figurative’. Working from different periods of imagery, he derives much of his inspiration from music, film, and fashion. In an artist interview with Wishbone (2018), Richard describes his process in creating his imagery. He approaches every painting as a scene out of a film reel. To create these scenes, he stages photoshoots with his girlfriend in different locations, and then adjusts those images by photoshop and rigorous sketch studies to perfect the final image. That finalized image ultimately goes into process for painting.

Queen of Hearts by Richard Blunt, oil on canvas, 40x30", 2020.

One of Blunt’s newest pieces titled, Queen of Hearts is absolutely stunning. The stark downcasted light source of the composition reflects that cinematic experience in the movies. As one gazes into the deep shadows nestled between the bend of his arm over her shoulder, the man and woman  create a visual dialogue back and forth between each other. From left to right the rosy warm rich flesh tones of their skin reinforce that weighted spotlight above them. This lush blended flesh tones, balances well with Blunt’s thick impasto style of painting applied to the clothes of these characters. Their down tipped faces deny us access to their gaze, speaking to the intimacy of the moment, and the intriguing desire Blunt achieves for the story he is trying to tell.

Midnight Dance by Richard Blunt, oil on panel, 30x30", 2020.

Another painting I admire is called Midnight Dance. This painting just oozes romance. Similar to Queen of Hearts (above), Blunt once again captures a heightened intimate. The imagery of the dancers aside a 1950’s jukebox rewinds the viewers on a journey through time. Blunt creates a romantically soft and subtle space with the contours of these characters. He activates the space of the black vignette to orchestrate a ballroom dance in the mind of viewers.

Blunt really does a great job with texture. His paintbrush transforms the robust red of her left hip into the silky warm seducing dress swaying in the painting. The sharp white of the buttoned up dress shirt glows like a beam of light through the composition lending to an even more rich illustrious facade to the jukebox. This gentle intimate dance is the picture perfect moment of any classic love story.

The Boss by Richard Blunt, oil on panel, 30x30", 2020.

Another painting I revere is The Boss. This oil painting on panel showcases the quintessential moment where we (the viewer) are confronted by the archetypal big bad boss sitting before us. The deep rich dark downward folds of the curtain behind him create an exquisite showcase of the thick white highlights painted to the glassware of this desk. From the decanter, glass, ash tray, globe, and rotary phone, these classic objects give the boss character the mystery and danger of any great badass or villain.

Blunt does a great job contropposing his technical painting application. With the stark highlights painted in the desktop objects, he laterally blends plains of casted reflection to maximally emphasize the scene.

Richard Blunt has inspired me in his ability to build narrative in his work. Narrative and storytelling is something I always strive to develop in my work. Producing photoshoots and working from the imagery of his own creation is a commonality of my studio practice, and what I love is that it allows me to internalize and digest the images- free from recontextualizing existing images out. I admire the way that he approaches each image as a scene from a movie reel. I am someone who is forever inspired by Hollywood and the starlets of film and music on the west coast. To see his image making process certainly speaks to a trueness to the influences in his own life, but moreso a dedication to his creative practice.

Coco Dvez

    

Valeria Palmiero (known as Coco Dvez) is a Spanish-born painter from Madrid, Spain. Dvez primarily paints acrylic portraits, miniatures, and collaborative works- also working a great deal in photography. Alongside her studio practice, Coco runs her own podcast, Participantes para un Delirio (Participants for a Delusion). Coco’s work is internationally remowned, exhibiting in London, Paris, Tokyo, Queensland, and beyond! She has collaborated with high profile companies and brands such as Chanel, Vogue, and Netflix. She is someone I consider the poster child ‘modern-day pop artist’ transcending so many fields and disciplines with her work.

I was first inspired by stumbling upon her work on Instagram. I came across her series Faceless- a series of acrylic paintings she produced the past two years. These paintings are seemingly simplistic to the naked eye, but nothing could be further from the truth. Dvez carefully crafts the iconic attributes of the individual, and channels both a robust and harmonious color palette that pleases the eye. To me as a painter, the challenge in removing the gaze and most facial features demonstrates her mastery of painting and a pronounced awareness of cultural history.

Hockney by Coco Dávez, acrylic on canvas, (approx.) 69× 56", 2019.

    

Coco’s piece, Hockney captures the character and his quirks in one of my biggest painting heroes, David Hockney. This portrait captures the imagery of an early 80’s David Hockney that is instantly recognizable. The glasses, the blonde hair, and a button down with the tie captures the essence of Hockney as the youthful painter living in Los Angeles at the time. The crisp angle of the shadow she paints under his chin, cements the identity of a young Hockney. Coco plays off the deep robust reds of the face nicely and transitions to a puffy playful pink to his postured shirt below.

Frida by Coco Dávez, acrylic on canvas, (approx.) 69× 56", 2019.

Coco’s piece, Frida embodies the spirit of Frida Kahlo. The primary tri-color scheme really makes this painting stand firm and proud. The robust reds of bring my mind back to her Mexican heritage and the lasting impact she had for her home country, for the painter’s community, and most importantly the impact she had on female artists.

The pops of sunflower yellow in her headdress, earrings, and blouse balance the weight of a heavily dark composition. They situate a light heartedness and star-like effect to her presence. They stand out as some of the memorable defining moments within this painting.

Pictures of Coco from her studio (Courtesy of Cocodavez.com)

    Coco has been an immense inspiration to me. As a newly graduated student in Marketing and Advertising (UofH ‘20) and a working artist, I always look for new ways to bring art and original content to the fields of marketing, advertising, branding, and social media. She has done just that- reinvented pop art in a grassroots sustainable way true to her own image. She keenly understands what makes great marketing- simply starting with her artist name, Coco Dvez.

Product Packing shots of Coco Dávez’s collaboration with Bombay Sapphire.

She has achieved a style that is highly transferable to product design murals, product packaging, storefront design, and much more! The aesthetic developed in her photography and social media gives the impression of a personable artist and creator relatable to ‘the average joe’ or everyday ‘consumer’- and one who has a finger on the pulse of today’s zeitgeist and today’s culture. Closely examining her career (thus far), I have learned so much about marketability of artists and what it takes in successfully branding one’s self as an artist & creator.

Eric Nash

    

Eric Nash is a realist painter working in Los Angeles, CA. Originally from Illinois, He received his BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on scholarship. He primarily works in oils and charcoal, and his works are often idealized (in essence) often to convey a film still or a memory. Moving to California,  he set up shop in the high desert town of Yucca Valley, California next to Joshua Tree National Park. He has been showcasing for over twenty years and is currently represented by many of the leading galleries in both Los Angeles and Palm Springs. His work has been featured throughout Tucson Museum of Art, Laguna Art Museum, Riverside Art Museum and Palm Springs Art Museum.

Golden State by Eric Nash, oil on canvas, 38× 60", 2018.

One of the pieces that struck me most was the oil painting titled, Golden State. The picture is so technically nuanced showing such subtle perforations painted over the frame upholding the highway sign. Nash takes lots of time carefully composing these large scale paintings. In Golden State, he packs significant warm temperature across the frame of the highway sign. With peachy and rustic warm sienna tones, he paints the impression of a sun soaked top layer in this painting. Part of this illustrious painting of the highway sign, Golden State captures some of that ‘visual vernacular’ we see (similarly) in Danny Heller’s work. It symbolizes both the good and the bad hustle n’ bustle traffic notorious of Southern California, while showcasing the gorgeous clear blue sky of a highly ideal climate on the West Coast.

    Speaking of developing ‘visual vernacular’, Highland 76 is a perfect example of how icons of paintings help the language for a culture out on the West Coast. This orb-like gas station sign for the oil chain company 76 is commonly found throughout California and across western parts of the country. From my own knowledge, their company has been a proud of sponsor of the LA Dodgers and a sponsored name of The Golden State Warriors former home ; The Oracle Arena (1971-2019)

Highland 76 by Eric Nash, oil on canvas, 30× 40", 2017.

Highland 76 is a fantastic stand alone piece. This 2017 painting by Eric Nash casts a laser beam of light through the sky of the West Coast. The glowing rich orange that reflects the sun, compliments the flat blue sky surrounding it. The shadows of the pole captures an amalgamated rusty violet hue reflecting the composite of the colors above. It speaks volumes to the scenes and sights on the streets LA travelers are accustomed to. I found this painting to be the cherry on top for showcasing the romantic nostalgia of the sprawling cityscape.

Hollywood View by Eric Nash, oil on canvas, 36x48" 2020.

Hollywood View is one of Nash’s newest paintings from 2020. In the foreground, Nash shows the Hollywood street sign overhead a red shotlight. Across the background lies a hazed atmosphere and where the presumed Griffith Observatory is situated atop the south-facing side of mount Hollywood. With its multi-wing and three dome design, the Observatory is a cornerstone of LA’s tourist attractions and a historic home to some of the biggest developments in astronomy and astrology.

I love how the composition of this painting produces a map for the mind visually signaling the viewer through associative measures. Connotatively speaking, the title Hollywood View reads as an attempt to refocus on the matters of today for Nash and others- scientific advancement; Today’s true Hollywood venture for the future.

Nash has many commonalities with my artistic practice. We both use oil paints and charcoals as our array of materials. We both draw inspiration from the scenery of California, and pull from the names of landmarks to fuel both titles of our work and artistic visions alike.

But don’t just take my word for it. Curators like Merry Karnowsky share a similar impression about Eric Nash’s work:

As a city of freeways, signs, and signals, these visions of Nash’s Los Angeles appear as if seen from the car window, the essential way to experience LA. The artist imbues each setting with a mysterious suspense, an allusion to seductive film imagery he has coined as California Noir. A nod to the film industry, the exhibition title Western Pictures is a clever innuendo that combines the imagery of Los Angeles as the birthplace of modern film, while also showcasing a romantic nostalgia of the sprawling cityscape. Transcending time, these portraits of place act as spaces of pure storytelling.

-Merry Karnowsky, Director and Curator of KP Projects, Los Angeles

Janiva Ellis

    

Janiva Ellis is an American oil painter based in Brooklyn and LA. Originally from Oakland, CA Ellis attended Cal. College of the Arts. In her artistic practice she makes figurative paintings that explore the African-American female experience. Since 2017, her work has been exhibited across both the state of New York and California.

    Described by many, her style of figure painting is referred to as both visceral and unsettling. Moving past reality and fantasy, the vibrant colors in her compositions controppose a hint of cheerfulness and comfort, while exploring pain and violence of a female human experience.

Co-Panicing by Janiva Ellis, oil on canvas, 30.5×22.5", 2017.

Janiva Ellis’s piece, Co-Panicing depicts a form of turmoil and pain characterized by these hybrid animated characters. In an article review by Bubblegum Club Magazine, they highlight Ellis’ work as, “...a critical framework for exploring deep psychological trauma and the very complex intersections between race and gender. Her work often has an unexpected effect of shock, much like how trauma itself works.

I find a deep twofold set of emotions viewing her work. Her ingenuity in telling her stories of suffering through expressive postmodern painting methods baffles me. It is ingenious, insightful, and deeply motivated investigative work that retrains my eye (as an artist) each time I experience it. This strange new language she uses to convey pain, recontextualizes my own approaches to conveying form in my figure paintings.

Prescribed Ambush by Janiva Ellis, oil on canvas, 2018.

Janiva Ellis’s piece, Prescribed Ambush is another tremendous painting by Ellis. This busy endeavour of a painting showcases raw and radiating colors captures one’s attention and works their way through the many faces seen here (above). This piece really speaks to the power of ‘the gaze’ and the effect that it has signaling to the viewer. These faces are both surreal and disturbing and they encode a visual language to describe pain and suffering that is baked into the fabric of her work. The clown-like perception I get when viewing the clouds and skyline coming through the face has me unsettled and decentered the same feeling as viewing a car crash right before my very eyes. These contentious tactics in her painting style like this piece and others such as Thrill Issues demonstrate profound ways that color, form, and gaze transform to recontextualize the role animated cartoons characters play impacting narratives in figure painting.

In an interview with Cultured Magazine, Ellis spoke upon this concept:

“Cartoons reference our introduction to media and how that influences our perception. Tactics of categorizing as a means of self preservation begin with our earliest exposures to media. Upon introduction, impressions are accepted as absolute until they are skewered by contradicting realities. This introduction of doubt is instrumental to our perception of foreign experiences.”

-Janiva Ellis with Cultured Magazine (2018)

    Reflecting on her work, I see many commonalities in style to the works of contemporary painter George Condo. Being drawn to his work back in my undergraduate years, I think I was similarly drawn into Ellis’s work subconsciously. I believe Janiva’s ability to transcend reality to fantasy and be able to do so in a way that anecdotally reflects human experience in the deepest emotional senses, resonates so powerfully to me. 

    As I continue to explore the role of color and form in my figurative paintings, I continually lean on Janiva’s work to inspire me and support or challenge my decision making.

Bibliography

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———. n.d. “Resume.” Danny Heller Art. http://www.dannyhellerart.com/about.

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Wishbone Publishing Ltd. 2018. “Richard Blunt Artist Interview.” YouTube Video. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MjbOswo-9w&feature=emb_logo.