An exhibition of anthropomorphic artworks by Lucia Heffernan expresses Coda Gallery’s uplifting spirit.
By Lisa Marie Hart
Photographs Courtesy Coda Gallery
Serious art needn’t take itself so seriously. Look at Coda Gallery, fearlessly exhibiting whimsical artists since 1987. The gallery has distinguished itself in Palm Desert for its bright, fun-spirited artworks. On current display, giant ceramic M&Ms and a cake pieced together from exotic hardwoods provide a sweet complement to tongue-in-cheek realism and comic book-themed pop art.
Imaginative artists like Lucia Heffernan, who places fictional animals in emotive human situations, are at home within the mix of colorful creations by artists who embrace an uplifting perspective.
Heffernan’s paintings are “like a mini vacation,” gallery director Samuel Heaton says. “The work just makes people smile.”
What’s more, their exceptional quality, Heaton explains, is in rare combination with the often furry or feathered subjects of her pieces. “They’re really, really well done. At Coda, we are concerned about quality. And [with Heffernan], the quality is there. Our artists have to be the best, and she really is one of the best in her field.”
Coda Gallery began representing Heffernan’s art about a year ago; her new exhibition continues through Jan. 21. Though the artist is based in Salt Lake City, she sparked the relationship with the gallery.
In town for her daughter’s lacrosse tournament, Heffernan took a stroll along the galleries of El Paseo, wondering if one might be a fit for her light-hearted work. She was drawn to Coda like a mouse to cheese. Or a pig to macaroons. Or a pair of lip-locked bunnies to a Ferris wheel.
“She’s very passionate about the work,” Heaton says. “She’s energized and engaging. It catches you by surprise. We talk about it in the gallery. We enjoy being around these animals.”
Everyone has seen a dog with a big, goofy smile. Heffernan transfers that irresistible display of candidness to species great and small. Each critter exudes individuality; each creature shares a relatable viewpoint. In settings from backyard pools and beaches to bars, billiard halls, and jury boxes, innocence meets instinct as she captures the human experience in non-human form.
Though her work is enchanting, few could execute these animals with the elegance and sophistication that Heffernan does. She has been trained in graphic design, oil painting, and anatomy. Technically, the pieces are no less awe-inspiring than classic works of portraiture, right down to her most petite paintings, encircled by small gilt frames.
Heffernan has followers and collectors around the world. More importantly, she is appreciated for the unexpected wave of warm fuzzies her work stirs in the souls of those in its presence. When a cow strikes a yoga pose or a penguin throws on a fur-trimmed parka for his winter fishing trip, people respond.
“They’re stories, and everybody loves a story in a painting,” Heaton says. “She has animals in all walks of life, doing all sorts of different things, which makes her work remarkable and special.”
Coda’s positive spin coupled with an approachable staff has the approval of the American Art Awards, which named it “Best Gallery in California 2020,” a title it previously earned in 2017. Coda is also one of American Arts Award’s 25 best galleries and museums in the United States.
Brimming with life, humor, and a vibrant palette, Coda represents a range of established, mid-career, and emerging artists. Together, they light up this happy place, fulfilling the mission of the gallery: to make acquiring art a relaxed and pleasurable experience.