Heller's sense of preservation of these understated homes echoes that of many mid-century modern purists. What in the '80s might have been considered architectural clay on which to force a different aesthetic is now becoming cool again for both its kitschy-ness and the look itself. Heller says a lot of his buyers own mid-century moderns and want to celebrate them.
The very same notion of decorating a mid-century modern home with paintings that celebrate the style is what first compelled Reed, a former mailman who now designs websites, to start painting. Reed and his partner lived in Los Angeles and first became attracted to mid-century modern when they visited friends in Palm Springs in the early part of the decade. They liked the style of the desert homes, but also the lifestyle of the city and their friends there.
"People would drop in on each other, they'd drop in on us, we'd drop in on them, have a barbecue. It was so much more casual than Los Angeles. I just became kind of enamored with the whole thing," Reed says. "That's really when the transition from doing assemblage work to doing work on paper started for me." Reed started in art making works out of found objects.
About six years ago, Reed and his partner bought an Alexander home in Palm Springs and began fixing it up as a weekend project. They finished after four years, and Reed began painting his over-stylized tributes to the form as a way to decorate their newly completed project.
Reed says his Googie-inspired paintings also come from the Tiki sensibility he picked up from his grandfather years ago. "I think, even though it's not quite the same as the mid-century modern, it all has this sort of 'embracing' about it that wants to take everything in and synthesize it and present it back to a modern public," he says of the Tiki aesthetic.
But while Heller and Reed often find their paintings being hung within the homes they depict, Berk says the people—mainly New Yorkers—who have bought her works may not want to invest and live in one of these homes, but are nonetheless interested in them as architecture and artistic fodder.
"They're more interested in pinning down and thinking about the desire behind the image of that home," Berk says of her buyers. "[They're] apartment owners, city people mostly."
Somewhere in between the full-force celebration of the style that is Reed and the heavy suspicion of Berk comes Orange County artist Josh 'Shag' Agle. His over-stylized, cartoon-like paintings are some of the most well known send-ups of mid-century modern life. His work focuses on the people of the era, portraying beatniks, guys in plaid sport coats, and women in slinky cocktail dresses, all partying in houses that are thoroughly mid-century modern.
While the joy and optimism of the era come through plainly in his work, Shag also focuses on the hedonism. "[The mid-century era] to me implies hedonism—the great cocktail parties, the smoking and the drinking," Agle told CA-Modern recently. "Playboy magazine from the '50s and early '60s embodies that. It was okay to be a hedonist."
Animals populate Agle's scenes—bears, wolves, and apes, wearing beatnik attire or suits with skinny ties. While cute and playful, they also remind the viewer of the base, underlying nature of many social interactions. There's something predatory going on here. This is not Disney. To that foreboding end, Agle says that his latest book, 'Autumn's Come Undone,' is "darker and more personal than anything I've done in the past."
Desire—whether for domesticity or individuality, tradition or revolution, or just for a cool-looking thing—plays a big role in driving all of these artists to paint, as it does in driving homebuyers to these unique living spaces. One doesn't 'just happen' to purchase a modern home.
Similarly, these artists did not set out to paint 'a house,' and find themselves in front of a mid-century modern. They were inspired by the designs and by the feelings generated by these iconic structures. And their art, in its myriad styles, comes from the stirring effect of these domestic canvases.
Photos: John Eng; and courtesy Megan Berk, Scott Caple
Paintings: courtesy the individual artists, Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Company