Under the glow of beams from an alien spacecraft, gray-haired couples square dance among the remnants of a croquet game. Meanwhile, teenage boys roam naked through the neighborhood on their respective bikes, a trio of seniors plays strip poker in their dining room and neighbors fight to the death over a space rock that’s dropped from the sky.
Welcome to “Strange Suburbia,” an alternate universe created by area artist Andrea Heimer as an homage to the suburban neighborhood in Montana where she spent part of her youth.
Heimer—a longtime artist and one-half of the musical duo known as No-Fi Soul Rebellion—says she started the 25-painting series during a period of depression partially caused by the fact that she was no longer happy where she was living. The longer her house didn’t sell, she says, the more trapped she felt in a neighborhood she no longer enjoyed.
As she thought back to other places she’d lived over the course of her life, she finally rewound her memory spool to her childhood home.
“It was like someone flicked a light on,” Heimer says. “I saw everything as it had been, Technicolor weirdness sprawling all over the rolling Montana hills. I saw the Johnson boys as clearly as I had when I was a kid, the two of them standing astride their bikes with a sort of menacing energy swirling all around them. ‘The Johnson Boys’ was the first of the paintings, and embodies everything I’m exploring in these paintings: darkness and strangeness in the suburban landscape.”
Heimer says it was only as she got older that she began to see that what she thought of as a sea of monotony—well-appointed golf courses, homes with lawns manicured to pinpoint precision, dog parks and look-alike abodes—was actually a hotbed of oddities. She began to pay attention to what might be happening behind closed doors—or in backyards—and was rarely disappointed.
“No family or group of families could ever live up to the picture-perfect suburban neighborhood,” Heimer says. “It’s a manufactured image. These neighborhoods, like any others, are filled with darkness, violence, kink and mystery, only in suburbia these things are hidden from view as not to mar the rest of the scene. The fact that these strange things are hidden makes the speculation all the more thrilling.”
Those who come to check out “Strange Suburbia” when it opens Aug. 3 at Make.Shift Art Space during the downtown Bellingham Art Walk should know that the series of acrylic paintings each tell a story. Heimer says the narrative was the focus of each image, and details such as proportions and line quality took a backseat where creativity was concerned.
“I’ve painted a ton over the past six years and while I’ve enjoyed it all, the ‘Suburbia’ paintings are the first images I really felt were mine,” Heimer says. “My stories, my style, my everything. I love them.”
And, these days, Heimer also loves where she’s living—in an apartment above a barn in the county (where, incidentally, her horse is also in residence). If she needs a dose of suburban life once in a while to remind her of her roots, however, her family still lives in the suburb in Montana that was the inspiration for the exhibit. She says they’ll never leave.
When asked if “Strange Suburbia” turns the American dream upside down, Heimer’s answer is succinct: “I think this exhibit lifts it up and takes a close look in the dark, dusty places.”
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