Drew Heitzler’s latest exhibition, “Paradies Amerika,” is currently on view at Marlborough Chelsea, and features artwork created around the history and culture of the West Los Angeles neighborhood, Pacific Palisades (personalities like Elizabeth Taylor, Neil Young, Charles Manson, and Walt Disney can all be associated with the area). Including a five-channel video, photographs, prints, and paintings on neoprene, “Paradies Amerika” is a multi-media narrative about American popular culture and the roots from which it stems. Heitzler is known for appropriating various found artifacts such as comics, stamps, and video footage to comment on our society’s ties to culture and entertainment industry of Southern California. Whitewall recently spoke with Heitzler to discuss the inspiration behind his current show and the recurrent themes and motifs found throughout his prolific work.
WHITEWALL: Do you think the people and events associated with the Pacific Palisades say something about the culture of the United States as a whole?
DREW HEITZLER: My interest in the Palisades started with five houses: The Getty Villa, The Eames House, Villa Aurora, Murphy’s Ranch, and the Will Rogers Estate. The history of each of these houses provides a cross-section of Los Angeles in the post-war period and one can imagine them somehow forming a network. Using this imagined network as a model for an expanded field of influence, a scenario develops in which the aesthetic philosophy, political thought, technological development, and synthetic materials developed by the disparate groups that inhabited these structures trickled down into the architecture and popular culture of Southern California where its coming was instrumental to the development of “lifestyle,” which, exported via film and television, essentially created the image of the American dream.
WW: “Paradies Amerika” is the title of Egon Kisch’s 1929 novel in which he casts a critical view on California. Does this show mirror similar critical views, or does your work tell a different story?
DH: I believe that the function of the art is a critical one. Stripped of that, it’s simply mansion decor. And that is neither fun nor interesting.
WW: You work in video, photography, print, sculpture, and paintings—how do your different choices in media reflect particular ideas about a given subject?
DH: For this show I wanted to create a domestic feel in the front of the gallery that served as an entry into the video installation. I made photographs, prints, sculptures and paintings because that was what was called for.
WW: Right, and the video includes clips from film and TV that showcase how the lifestyle of the Pacific Palisades influenced American culture. There’s also some footage where Gumby plays the piano. How does Gumby come into all this?
DH: I originally started using Gumby because Raymond Pettibon uses Gumby in his drawings. It was a bit of an homage I guess. I don’t know why he likes Gumby but I suspect it is because Gumby is a good-natured anarchist. That’s why I like him. Plus he’s a shape shifter.
WW: It seems as if there is continuity of themes running through your exhibitions. Do you think projects like “Endless Bummer II/Still Bummin’” and “Drew Heitzler: Comic Books, Inverted Stamps, Paranoid Literature” influenced “Paradies Amerika?”
DH: I like the idea that everything eventually connects, and yes it is safe to say that the exhibitions I make, whether they are my own work or the work of others that I have curated, have continuity to them. I’d like to think that when I am done, and I look back over all the shows I made, there will be a story there; a story that I have told.