After graduating from architecture school in New York City during the peak of the 2009 recession, Heath West, the now full-time artist based in California, knew that this was one of the worst times to be an architect. But this wasn’t the only reason he transitioned into painting.
“There was a day when I had to choose between an MFA in painting or architecture. At the time, I wasn’t sure what kind of painter I wanted to be (since I love so many different types) and I thought architecture was a bit more realistic as far as a ‘career’ was concerned,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I was completely wrong about that.” So when the recession finally turned around and West was able to land some work, he “absolutely hated it” – describing every office he worked in as a “disappointment”, and how they were all very different from architecture school.
Perhaps lured in by the false perceptions of what the architecture industry was to be, or simply realising that architecture wasn’t the right choice for him, West still continued the grind of the nine-to-five. What kept him afloat was his artistic side hustle: “Once I was able to finally break free from an office to focus on my own work, I jumped at the opportunity – it’s what I’ve always wanted to do anyhow.”
Since landing his dream job in the arts, West has refined his style as one that comes heavily influenced by his architectural background. Structural elements such as windows, doors, and various interior and exterior elements occupy his imagery – where pastel hues and minimal framing present an otherworldly take on his surroundings. And when he ventures out to get inspired, it’s an organic process that begins with his camera. “I love living in Los Angeles as there’s so much to see and do here,” he says. “There are so many amazing buildings all over the place with beautiful details, so I take a lot of photos to document them.”
Despite being formed from the imaginary, his paintings are massively inspired by his photographs. Sometimes, he goes as far as using photographic elements to create the buildings “outside” or in the background space of the image. Additionally, where he highlights a close-up of a material, such as brick, wood slats or wallpaper, this has also been determined from a photograph – “but I always change them somehow during the process of drawing and painting.”
So far, West’s work has been featured in publications such as Anxy Magazine, Friend of the Artist and Grapefruit Magazine, and he has shown in various solo exhibitions at The Cabin in Los Angeles, Galleri Urbane in Dallas, and Dillon Kyle Architects in Houston, alongside numerous group exhibitions across the globe. Next in line is his second solo show at Galleri Urbane in January, where he plans to make “more big paintings” that steer towards true architectural scale.
“They feel more conceptually accurate to me,” explains West while discussing his reasons for working at an increasingly larger size. When his paintings were smaller and faster to produce, he felt that something was always missing. Now, he’s slowed down his process to focus more of craftsmanship – making all his frames in the studio. “I feel like they turn out much stronger”, he concludes, ringing true to the saying: the bigger the better.
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.