ReInterpret Review by Kayla Bischoff
Guest post by artist Kayla Bischoff
A myriad of brilliant hues occupy the downstairs gallery of the Community Arts Center in Danville, Kentucky. Clusters of paintings line the walls, boasting the great creativity and productivity of a prolific artist: Billy Hertz. “ReInterpret: Contemporary Landscapes” is an impressive collection of nuanced paintings exploring the dichotomy of representation and pure abstraction.
Billy Hertz is an incredibly skilled painter. He masterfully utilizes formal elements: color, composition, depth, balance, shape, and scale. “Fields #1” features horizontal stripes of bold red and yellow, broken up with a painterly swath of deep green receding to enhance visual depth. The repetition of scale is balanced by smaller shapes of Prussian blue and an earthy, raw sienna tone grounding the viewer at the bottom of the picture plane.
Many of the works in this show vary in sizes such as 12 x 16in. and 24 x 20in. These intimate works invite the viewer closer to admire the delicate layering of thin washes of color juxtaposed with graphite linear elements drawn into wet paint. This body of work also incorporates a mixed media approach not seen in earlier Hertz paintings. The artist builds the surface not only with oil paint and drawing materials, but with 3D elements of collaged foam core. A great example of this sculptural element can be found in “Pink Cloud at Sunrise.”
While Hertz has an impressive command of the medium, he also has much to offer conceptually. At a glance, his work appears entirely abstract. Upon reading the titles, the viewer may grasp a better understanding of the artist’s inspiration and source imagery. Landscape-oriented titles assist in one experiencing a piece in a potentially new way. “Pink Cloud at Sunset” is a great example of this phenomenon; initially one may see a pleasant array of geometric shapes that bare some resemblance to the tile-matching video game,Tetris. Becoming aware of the title allows one to clearly see a horizon line with an angular pink cloud sailing past.
The style of painting in this exhibition brings to mind Abstract Expressionism, specifically the subset of Color Field painting. Artists from this movement that Hertz shares common threads with include Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and John Hoyland. The artist perhaps more literally approaches the idea of a field of color, by depicting abstract landscapes from aerial views. “Garden Plot #1” places the viewer in an elevated perspective composed of vivid cadmium reds and yellows starkly contrasted with a layered dark hue with bits of green peeking through the thinly glazed layers.
Other works are less obvious in the landscape layout, but capture the essence of its inspiration, as seen in “Tomatoes.” The vibrant reds contrast with surrounding hues of green and yellow, with the power to stir memories of vine-ripened fruits on a hot, August day. The composition and colors are reminiscent of John Hoyland’s painting, “17. 3. 69 (1969).” Hoyland also experimented with thin washes of color juxtaposed alongside dense, creamy areas of paint application.
Along with referencing the natural world, the artist delicately plays with a range of emotions in each carefully constructed composition. These paintings have the power to provoke an immediate response in the viewer, but staying with them a bit longer to contemplate may bring about more complex emotions and connotations. The oil paintings of Billy Hertz instantly appear to radiate joy and passion for color. A boldly vivid painting may also have lingering elements of melancholy that deepens the emotional spectrum. This subtly can also be seen in works of the previously mentioned, Mark Rothko.
While this exhibition is instantly visually striking as a whole, it is well worth the time to contemplate individual works. In doing so, one will be delighted to find intimate details of the artist’s careful process, as well as experience a range of emotions and memories the viewer may bring with them. While everyone’s experience may vary, these paintings have the ability to resonate with many.