We had the good fortune of connecting with Danny Heller and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Danny, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking.
Risk taking is something I’ve thought about a lot throughout my career and continually try to analyze. As an artist you could say that my whole career path has been one big risk. And I realized that early on: I graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in fine art, however, I chose to focus on design, specifically theatre/stage design, thinking I would apply my artistic talents to the film industry. Having grown up in LA, film was a decidedly less “risky” career than trying to make it as a fine artist. But when that didn’t work out, I was like a ship at sea with the wind out of my sails. I kept painting though and decided to take a risk applying to a group exhibit at the famous LA gallery, La Luz de Jesus. This paid off big because not only did I get accepted into the show, but my work sold well and they asked me back for more shows. This really started me on the path to become a fine artist. Throughout the years, I’ve always lived by the motto “no risk, no reward.” It’s only when you get out of your comfort zone that you stand to accomplish big things and more importantly, grow. This has led me to show regularly in NYC, get accepted into a corporate collection in Paris, and have representation in Madrid. It might feel uncomfortable to talk to people you don’t know, expose your very personal work to criticism, or even spend your money on something that might not pay off, but all these things are necessary to go forward and to take your business to the next level.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My paintings predominantly focus on midcentury architecture, design, and car culture found throughout California. Working in a photo-realistic fashion, I highlight elements of design that made the era so spectacular – walls of intricate breeze block patterns, dynamic rooflines of tract homes, the fins of a 1958 Cadillac, kidney-shaped swimming pools – and how they combine with the surrounding environment to create an idealized setting. It’s important for me to not only respectfully capture these touchstones of design, but also communicate their optimism and continued relevance in our daily lives. My goal is to help people value the past and aid in its preservation so that we may learn from it. But it took me a while to get to that set of ideals – and it surely wasn’t easy! After graduating college and returning to the suburbs of Los Angeles, I felt devoid of inspiration. After some time, I realized there was material all around me. The post-war tract homes had a specific look to them amongst the cracker jack tracts and McMansions that started popping up at the end of the century. I thought I would act as a sort of documentarian of these overlooked and even vanishing homes. After some success, I refined my subject matter to specifically focus on the dynamic midcentury Modern homes that too were threatened with demolition or heart-breaking alteration. As you can imagine, getting to the point where you live off of your art can be a long challenging road, so I realized this would be a marathon, not a sprint. I had to have the patience to be in it for the long haul, the fortitude to take risks, and be conscience that there were going to be delays, but that perseverance should carry me through. This was especially true when the Great Recession happened and it hit the art world pretty hard. It forced me to think outside the box, try new ways to market my work, figure out a pricing structure that would still allow me to sell while not jeopardizing the quality of my work, and most importantly, anticipate events to come and budget my work and money appropriately.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
As much as I love the beautiful beaches of LA and all the fun of Venice, my heart lies on the East Side. During the day, I would recommend checking out the shops and spots in Silver Lake and Los Feliz, specifically dropping in to the La Luz de Jesus gallery to see the newest exhibit and peruse their unique gifts and collectibles. For a little fresh air, I’d start out at Ferndell in Los Feliz: a magical park/trail surrounded by meandering streams and lush vegetation – I swear you’d think you were in the Jurassic era! From there, you can take a hike up to one of my favorite spots in all of LA: the Griffith Observatory. The stunning views are only matched by the fantastic Art Deco architecture. For another blend of outdoors and architecture, go on a leisurely walk around the Silver Lake reservoir, taking note of the Spanish, Art Deco, Moderne, and Midcentury architecture that surrounds it. While there, be sure to tour the Neutra VDL House: not only once his family home, but also a prime example of the visionary architect’s International Style of midcentury architecture. Pop in to Silver Lake’s LAMILL Coffee either before or after for pick-me-up and a delicious treat. When evening hits, I’d recommend the Dresden in Los Feliz for a glimpse into old-school LA. This 1954 landmark retains all its midcentury charm, including the clam shell booths. Great for food or just drinks, you can also spend the night entertained by stalwarts Marty and Elayne, featured in the movie “Swingers.” You might also want to check out the famous bar, Tiki Ti, a few blocks down, chocked full of iconic tiki goodness. This remains one of the oldest tiki bars in LA and one of the best. At the end of the night, do yourself a treat and get a bite at either Fred 62 or House of Pies, across the street from each other in Los Feliz. You won’t regret it.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There really are so many people that have contributed to my success along the way. No business/success story exists in a bubble – it takes an astute person to realize they should draw off the talents and knowledge of those around them that they trust. From dedicated teachers in my schooling to other artists that I befriended on my way up, I’ve been fortunate to know some kind, motivated people. But I first have to thank my parents, Larry and Charlotte Heller, for instilling in me a strong work ethic and a set of morals that has acted like a compass throughout my journey. They taught me to treat my art like a business and keep going when faced with adversity. In addition, I owe so much to my wife, Tracy Beckmann, who is so driven and clever, she has succeeded in multiple careers. She has not only inspired me to take more risks and think bigger, but she has made me more mindful of how I present myself to others.
Facebook: Danny Heller