"ReInterpret: Paintings by Billy Hertz" review
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
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
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
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.