"ReInterpret: Paintings by Billy Hertz" review

April 23, 2017

 

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 peaking 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.

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