Art, Architecture, and Collage at George Billis Gallery
By Genie Davis
Just closed at George Billis Gallery, two solo shows; Michael Cutlip’s first with the gallery, Transition; and Danny Heller’s fifth, Modern Leisure.
Heller’s exhibition showcases the artist’s highly realistic oil paintings, images which focus on Mid-Century Modern residential architecture. But each of his works carries with it something that goes beyond the structures he is recreating — a riveting sense of light that pulls viewers into his scenes and imprints his images on retinas as surely as if they had stared into the sun itself. His oil on canvas “Butterfly Roof Alexander House,” is a perfect example. Here, the roof structure of a Palm Springs modern home is highlighted, while afternoon desert sunlight casts the shadows of native landscaping against the home’s white brick walls. In Eichler With Galaxie, the light is infused in the cloudless blue sky, reflected in the beautiful Galaxie’s salmon pink paint job and mirrored in its windows.
Heller writes that he is paying homage to the once-revered, now ignored mid-century American architecture and design. His subjects are sculptural in form, innovative in spirit, but it is what the artist does with them, manipulating light, angle, and form, that creates the seemingly alive nature of his works. Despite the fact that no actually living being inhabits these structures, there is a sense of movement about to appear, an anticipation in the shadows and points of view. Hoping to capture and preserve this architecture for future generations and “build a new respect for the past, aid in its preservation,” Heller takes a somewhat esoteric subject and weaves magic into it. Take the absolutely gorgeous blue palette of “Twin Palms Evening,” in which an inviting pool mirrors the stunning sky. Capturing the look of what is in film lighting viewed as “the magic hour,” Heller succeeds in holding the soft dark velvet night at bay through the last remaining color in the sky and the warm circle of light emanating from the house itself and glowing up from the pool. “Morning Lawn Flamingos” glint with early, pearled light; “The Kaufman House” itself is subtly playing second-fiddle to the white light of the desert and a small patch of landscaped rock and indigenous plants outside that home’s gates.
Michael Cutlip’s Transition is a mixed media show that combines elements of collage to panels on which the artist also paints. These are abstract images that are layered in such a way that they evoke what happens if you tear away a strip of wallpaper and more wallpaper lies beneath it, or rip down a handbill only to see other handbills beneath that. The collage and the paint in combination create a supremely dimensional working style, one that focuses on texture and color.
The San Francisco-based artist is primarily self-taught, and his vibrantly colored abstract collage works are as varied as the busy city life he evokes. While at the core of each piece there is a representational association, what we are seeing here is a reconstitution of representational images as a balance of abstract texture and color. See the almost wave-like shape of “The Fuzz,” or the buzzing yellows and gold between what could be two profiled faces talking in “Chit Chat.” His “Sol” could be a gold sun partially visible over red hills.
While Cutlip and Heller are quite different artists, what ties them together is their use of color and light and the evocation of something beneath the surface, whether it is beneath or within the carefully rendered photorealism of Heller’s works or the layers of Cutlip’s collage.