The multipurpose gallery space where Matt Keller will have his artwork on display this month is located on San Juan Avenue in Venice. But the story behind the showing is in Santa Monica, on 21st Street between Ocean Park Boulevard and Pearl Street.

When he was in the market for a new house several years ago, Heller came across a property there and knew the road seemed familiar. It was the childhood block of his friend from Santa Monica High School, Brian Morena, and younger brother Greg Morena.

Heller settled in. Since then, Brian has moved back. And Greg, whose wife was his childhood neighbor on 21st Street, recently sold his house in Venice and returned to 21st Street.

“We see each other and point and laugh,” Heller said. “Santa Monica is a small town, but it’s not somewhere you need to get out of.”

Bringing the connection full-circle is the fact that the Venice art space is run by Greg Morena, a local businessman who has held executive positions for clothing brands The Hundreds and Undefeated. He’s currently chairman and president of The Albright restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier.

Heller found out about Morena’s art space after hearing about an exhibit featuring the work of Kevin Ancell, a Santa Monica native and surfing aficionado whose art attempts to capture the Westside lifestyle.

“That week I was talking with Greg in front of our houses, and he said he has this new space in Venice,” Heller said. “When I saw the space and talked with Greg, it just had to happen. It was exciting to put on my own show in that space.”

After attending Roosevelt Elementary and Lincoln Middle schools, Heller graduated from Samohi in 1992 and went to UC Santa Barbara to study art and art history. He found a job in animation, working on video games in the mid-1990s before deciding the field wasn’t right for him. Heller then transitioned into art for film and TV, a career move that gave him time to develop his own artwork.

And after a stint in New York, Heller returned to Southern California to make a living off his own creations. Thanks to his Santa Monica roots, he said, he has a handful of celebrity clients and is commissioned for much of his work.

“I always made art,” he said, “but I didn’t realize it would be a career.”

Citing Jean-Michel Basquiat as one of his influences, Heller often incorporates text into his visual art. In his “Homage to Music” series, he paints the lyrics of popular ballads like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

“I transition it into another sense so you’re seeing a song,” he said.

Using a special method to produce block-like lettering, Heller also writes poetry for his art. His phrases, such as “I will always love you until I don’t,” are intentionally contradictory and thought-provoking.

“He’s an incredible artist,” Morena said. “We were talking about doing something [in the space], and this all just panned out.”

Morena’s art space is located at 201 San Juan Ave., just off Main Street in Venice. Heller’s opening reception will be held Saturday, Feb. 6., from 6 to 9 p.m.

For more information about the artist, visit