James Heron

James Heron
Oil & Acrylic / Watercolor


My cityscape paintings are informed by visual connections I have had with architecture. My early connections were, oddly enough, growing up in Nevada (a place mostly empty of buildings). Nevada is scattered (if one knows where to look) with ruins of abandoned ghost towns, mines, and factories. These relics of human ambition are strange, exciting places, littered with rusting machinery, broken glass, bullet casings, yet possessed of a peaceful serenity and emptiness.
Another formative connection was during my architecture training, when I spent a summer studying painting, sculpture, and photography at the Aegean School of Fine Arts on the Greek Island of Paros. Living in and exploring the whitewashed Greek villages enlightened me to the simple beauty of humble vernacular architecture. To this young architect, it was a pure expression of the modernist ideal – direct, timeless, and sublimely sculptural. Subsequent travels around the Mediterranean including Greece, Turkey, Italy, France, Spain, North Africa, reinforced this connection.


For the past 35 years, living and practicing architecture in San Francisco have provided me further inspiration for my cityscapes. As an adjunct to my architectural practice, I began, in the 80’s, a series of studio paintings – initially simple “studies” on paper – of imaginary architecture, experimenting with different media, surfaces, color and textural effects, drawing on memories, and impressions of the City around me.

In 1989, I had my first exhibition of 20 of these studies at Limn, an innovative design gallery in San Francisco. Over the following years, the paintings evolved into larger and more complex “cityscapes”, and have been exhibited locally and nationally (including an exhibition at Stanford, and solo exhibitions at the American Institute of Architects Galleries in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco). I continue to divide my time between painting and practicing architecture (activities which are complimentary) – and traveling, when I can, with my wife who is also a painter.

The work

The mood of my cityscapes suggests emptiness and stillness, and yet, though free of human figures, there is a suggestion of occupancy and activity, latent rituals to be acted out on an empty stage. With mostly abstract forms to engage us, these are dwellings for the imagination.
My paintings seek a balance between abstraction and representation. Purely abstract contrasts of shape, texture, color, light and dark are punctuated with elements suggesting human scale; doors, stairs, columns, which seem both familiar and unsettling. Where do these stairs lead? What is beyond that door?
My paintings are ultimately an homage to the visual joy of cities – living things that grow, change, evolve, shaped by a complex of forces, sometimes humane, sometimes brutal. Cities, large and small (San Francisco or Paros), are our most universal artifacts, imprints of highest aspirations and darkest conceits. The beauty of cities that I hope to show with my work lies in the meeting of their relentless abstract physicality and their fluidity of meaning.