Los Angeles

Steve Heino

Jan Baum Gallery

The formal aspects of Constructivist art have maintained a vitality quite apart from the social programs they were created to promote and serve. With its urban focus and technological, architectonic use of 20th-century materials, the Constructivist attitude has become a metaphor for a style and philosophy of living. We see the formal language of Constructivist art in the work of mid-20th-century American artists, it has been faithfully taught in our universities, and it appears in the work of our youngest artists, who sometimes understand the style thoroughly before they are even aware that its lean, strong, physically compelling surface can conceal an iconography.

Steven Heino’s constructed paintings reiterate many aspects of the Constructivist idiom—rectilinearity, a desire for complex spatial structures, and the use of common industrial materials such as galvanized steel, billboard-poster fragments, and heavy commercial pigments. There is something quite inspiring in the way Heino puts all of this together. He works on a grand scale, but maintains a deftness of touch in small, subtle areas and transitional zones; large planes of painted wood shift obliquely in space while broad armatures of wood and steel establish an underlying stability. Real and pictured atmospheric spaces seem to exist simultaneously, recalling the vastness of El Lissitzky’s “Proun” compositions. Fragments of Los Angeles billboards, reversed, inverted, and bleached by the sun, invade Heino’s careful structures, but they settle in and reinforce the cool/hot urbanism of his theme.

Heino’s muscular structures lean heavily on the example of Frank Stella’s exuberant constructed paintings, but his sensibility affirms the rectilinear, the architectonic, and the atmospheric. The most startling and memorable aspect of his works, in fact, is its capacity to establish an ethereal surface, a quality that ties it to the paintings of Richard Diebenkorn, for example, more closely than to Stella. Calm, translucent grounds of graded color hold our attention and speak directly of the experience of Los Angeles’ light, air, and movement. The largest works in this exhibition are the most successful because they allow the viewer to enter Heino’s evocative space most completely. As is often true of young artists, Heino sometimes tries to do too much in one work, but his synthesis is a rich one with more than a little truth to tell of the life, pulse, and luminous natural environment of this city.

Susan C. Larsen