Art Imitates Life In Danny Heller's Los Angeles Suburbia

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, Danny Heller thought nothing of the Eichler development he glimpsed from the windows of his parents’ station wagon on the way to Little League practice. It was only years later that he found something to appreciate in the sea of modern tract homes that made up his neighborhood (including Joseph Eichler’s Granada Hills development). “I was studying art in college, but I also took a course in architecture, and I began to see the value of the houses that surrounded me as a kid,” he says. “I also was reminded of the homes through references in pop culture, including The Brady Bunch Movie.
 I had considered the place where I grew up really boring, but I started seeing it as really cool.”

Beginning in 2005, the artist, now living in Los Feliz, started photographing modern homes and painting them in his signature photorealistic style as a way of exploring his childhood. Later, he came to feel that his paintings were recording architectural history and bringing it to the attention of a broader audience, and his work took on a preservationist bent. Although he mostly presents the scenes as his camera documents them, he does take a few artistic liberties, occasionally cleaning up weathered paint or sagging gutters. His greatest fiction comes when he pairs vintage cars with the houses when no such vehicle is actually in sight. “The classic cars add a human element,” he says. “They have so much personality; they fill a void.

Heller has also painted the works of the modernist giants, including a hotel by John Lautner and homes by Charles and Ray Eames. But he still appreciates, and most enjoys, the homes that have no architect of record or builder of note. “Most of the well-known modernist houses have been shown, photographed and painted a million times. I often avoid them, because there’s nothing new to add to the conversation,” Heller says. “But there’s something powerful in the lesser-known modern homes. Plus, I’m always drawn to the underdog.”

This was originally published in California Home + Design's Summer 2013 issue. Click here to subscribe.