Estero Artist Robert Heier Explores ‘Fauxtography of Fallen Angels’
An Estero artist has quickly made a name for himself in Southwest Florida for his work with angels.
Earthly angels with no wings.
These angels are colorful, mesmerizing images made from photographs that Robert Heier makes of obscure, aging architecture in Europe, Latin America and South America. “Some of the buildings are falling apart,’’ he explains. “So, actually, they are my fallen angels. They are timeless. Not only are they baroque, they are rotten baroque.’’
Heier calls his art “fauxtography,’’ which is catchy although not entirely accurate. There is nothing faux or fake about the pictures that he delights in making in mostly out-of-the-way venues. And there is nothing faux or fake about the serious, hard work Heier does with Photoshop on a computer—to add all ranges of color and often multiple copies of the same doorway, window, street scene or façade in the same completed, framed work.
For the observer, finding the essence of each piece of Heier’s art can take time. “His ability to take a photograph and turn it into a beautiful, colorful abstract work of art is unbelievable,’’ says Jacke McCurdy, a leader of the Centers for the Arts Bonita Springs, or CFABS, and fellow artist, in ink. “Truly a talent!’’
In the past few years, Heier has expanded from paper to working with high-quality canvas and metal. He allows those advanced works—up to 6 feet wide or tall—to employ elements from more than one photograph. Pictures of arches in Europe, for example, can be accented by clouds from local skies for a strikingly global effect. And the images reproduced on metal get increasingly vivid as the gloss or shine of the material is increased.
Heier, 75, is a Brooklyn, New York, native who worked as an anti-trust prosecutor and defense attorney, financial planner and syndicated “Money & You’’ writer. He moved to Estero five years ago, from Fairfax County, Virginia. The tall, sturdy, outgoing artist didn’t take long to bond with the local art scene.
He has taken part in major shows sponsored by CFABS and has given back by offering deep discounts for a CFABS fundraiser sale/exhibition that was held in January. “I believe in the organization’s very ambitious approach—with education for young people and seminars for older people,’’ Heier says. “And CFABS president Susan Bridges is just a terrific head of state. Plus, she’s a sweetie.’’
Bridges returns the praise: “Throughout time, we’ve seen artists on the edge of new and exciting ideas and processes, always pushing us forward, challenging us. We’ve also seen those who choose to remain steeped in the traditions of their training and hold onto that process and imagery. Robert is one of those innovators.
“He has a tremendously creative, artistic mind and viewpoint. … He combined new ‘tools’ in his art—computers, software programs, etc., with his initial, more traditionally captured imagery. The result is this new, very different portrayal of the original subject. Each one of his artworks reflects his journey. They’re breathtaking.”
For Heier, the magic moment that led him to the path of photography and art is easy to recall. He credits his mother, who sent him a high-quality Canon camera to replace his everyday point-and-click Kodak, to assure she had good photos of Heier’s child. When he opened the box, he protested: “This is for pros.’’ To which his mother replied, “But the man in the store said … ”
The Canon, coupled with his lifelong interest in art—including painter Théo Tobiasse, master of the Paris School—and the rest is history. “It’s an addiction,’’ he says. “I miss a lot of meals.’’
Heier explains he’s backing away from his main sales places, such as big shows in Bonita and around the country, in favor of more leisurely paced galleries. He’s also branching out by providing works for the Embassy Suites in Kennesaw, Georgia, and the Ruth’s Chris Steak House located in the hotel.
His website, heierart.com, lists past exhibits at Colorida Gallery in Lisbon, Portugal, the Sausalito Art Festival in California, Michigan’s Ann Arbor Art Fair, and the Northern Virginia Arts Festival. Heier’s works have also been in the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado; McBride Gallery in Annapolis, Maryland; Trowbridge-Lewis Gallery in Middleburg, Virginia, and Lakeside Gallery in Reston, Virginia.
Heier’s talent gets an aptly thoughtful summary from Ehren Gerhard, CFABS’ exhibitions director and Florida Gulf Coast University adjunct professor of art: “Robert’s work explores strong design elements and color with rich layers of translucent imagery that inspires thought and reflection. He has created a number of large-scale photographs that encapsulate the viewer—as well as intimate, small-scale works that reveal themselves through closer observation.”
Picture this: Seldom before have fallen angels provided so much enrichment and enjoyment.
In the Artist’s Own Words
BY ROBERT HEIER
Whenever I travel abroad, I am simply captivated and in awe. I am truly in wonderland. My photographic images, done in both traditional as well as vastly different contemporary modes, are merely an attempt to recall, recapture and reconstruct the joy I have had while traveling.
Over the past 25 years or so, these travels have consisted mainly of exploring and haunting the haunted and obscure backstreets of small towns and villages throughout Western Europe and Latin America, in search of what I call "fallen angels." These once-proud and beautiful buildings and streets, now forgotten and forlorn, occupy what is to me an unforgettable oblivion.
Their classic and majestic lines from the glorious past, in combination with the peeling stucco and weathered paint of a grim present, create a special magic. Despite the ravages of time, these “fallen angels” retain their ageless dignity and continue to radiate an engaging mystery, serenity and spirituality.
In an effort to capture the wonder of these subjects, I process my photos digitally using the latest computer techniques and equipment. My enhancements are then done in one of two ways. One way is traditional, in effect a romanticized portrayal of the original subject matter. The other approach is definitely abstract or contemporary … [many of] the original subjects are virtually unrecognizable, replaced by images perhaps even more thought-provoking and timeless than the actual subjects.
In either case, the process of enhancement and image conversion can take up to several days per image. The results are then printed using special archival paper and pigmented inks in a way designed to convey the timeless grace of the original scenes in either a romantic or contemporary way.
Just this year, I was quite humbled to be given a four-page spread in International Masters of Photography, a coffee table compendium by practitioners from more than 50 countries. And recently I was honored to be invited by Architectural Digest magazine to participate in its exclusive Home Design Show, held annually at Pier 94 in New York City.
I have appeared with my work on TV and have been featured in a number of publications, including élan magazine and SPACES magazine as part of an award-winning design by Savant Design Group.
Written by Jeff Lytle, the retired editorial page editor and TV host from the Naples Daily News. He now lives in Bonita Springs.