Hermosa Beach artist Dan Janotta paints the local beach scene with an unexpected brushstroke.
It’s easy to see why robust artist communities blossom within the Beach Cities of South Bay: the statuesque palms that seemingly reach into the heavens, the rhythmic crash of the ocean waves that massage the shoreline and the unpredictably glorious hues produced by the sun’s daily rise and dip into the sea.
For all of this natural beauty, there is an endless succession of en plein air painters—French for “in open air”—determined to capture it. But Hermosa Beach artist Dan Janotta is not one of them.
“They’re beautiful paintings, and the technical execution is unbelievable,” he notes. “But I don’t want to do that.”
Instead Dan is intent on bridging the gap between the picturesque, although familiar, landscapes of Southern California beaches and the pulse of its culture—specifically the surfing scene. ”I want my style to be more urban, more edgy,” explains Dan.
A notable architect by trade, with more than 25 years as principal and senior designer at the acclaimed Johnson Fain, Dan picked up painting to fuel his creativity and decompress from a stressful career. At first his work was as precise as his architectural projects. “It was a lot of lifeguard stands and architectural-type structures,” he admits.
Soon, though, his style evolved. Detailed geometric shapes and straight lines transformed into more abstract images. Then on his daily commute, inspiration struck.
Glancing around from his car, Janotta noticed the long shadows that the end of the day produced, casting a hazy spell over familiar Los Angeles streets and freeways. “You can be in your car, in traffic, but look out and see there is so much beauty in the surroundings.”
Dan moved away from the beach scenery and instead began painting popular Los Angeles spots, late in the afternoon … snapping photos from his phone while in traffic, then spending the weekend conveying the quick snaps from the car onto a canvas.
Unable to capture the precise shapes and architectural details due to loss of daylight, Dan’s paintings became more abstract and experimental. He added figures and skipped architectural details in favor of expressing the mood and beat of the city and its inhabitants.
"I’m always trying to be looser and less precise than what I do in my career,” says Dan. The series featured long shadows, silhouettes, loosely interpreted architectural structures and intense bursts of color within a typically muted palette.
Now Dan is bringing the same themes back to the ocean. In his exhibit at the TAG gallery, appropriately titled Back to the Beach, Dan uses the familiar setting to introduce the audience to a younger generations of beach-goers, often surfers, and most with tattoos—as observed by the artist, retaining the signature style of deep shadows, muted colors with erupting sunset tones and ocean hues.
Dan calls his style “extreme coastal.” The impressions of the California coast that capture surfing, intense colors of the sunset and striking figures against the bright horizon are images that are strikingly different from the precisely executed en plein air artists you’ll find tucked away behind their easels along the boardwalks of the beach communities.
Nonetheless, the images as interpreted by Dan are as Californian as the palms waving in the salty air.
Dan’s Back to the Beach will be on view TAG through May 14.