INVITING PERSPECTIVES: THE MESMERIZING WORLD OF ARTIST HEATHER KOCSIS
BY CAI SEPULIS
‘Nothing in this studio is safe,’ artist Heather Kocsis says with a laugh, holding up the tattered cage of an electric fan missing over half of its radiating spokes. ‘When I realized the spokes would be perfect for
a staircase I was building, I cut them free from their cage and used them in my piece.’ She pauses, before adding (with a grin): ‘I had to buy a new fan, of course. But the piece looks great.’ My TOQUE Partner Chris Tiessen – who is taking photos of Heather, her work space, and her art – and I laugh and continue wandering through the artist’s studio in Cambridge, where we observe this same type of (albeit sometimes questionable) resourcefulness resonating from each of Heather’s pieces. ‘I’ll use anything: wood, corrugated cardboard, string, pretty much
any object I can get my hands on to create the texture and look that the piece needs.’
Difficult to define but perhaps best described as ‘sculptural paintings,’ Heather’s work is part architectural, part fine-art painting, and part woodworking. It tends to feature iconic, mostly local buildings, cathedrals and industrial settings – all intricately crafted and accurately detailed. Each piece presented from a unique perspective. MC Escher meets architectural realism.
It’s hard not to be drawn into any one of Heather’s pieces – even if it’s of a building you’ve seen a hundred times. Each one is like looking at a memory: some details are familiar, some parts you had forgotten. And
the play of light and shadows painted on thefacade inevitably draws you in for a closerlook.
‘Do you have a background in woodworking? Did you go to architecture school?,’ I ask the artist. I am driven by my own curiosity about this work, mesmerized with wonder about where and how these pieces came to be. Having gone to Dalhousie for architecture over a decade ago, I know all about creating scaled drawings and building models in the woodshop. But this is different. Heather’s ability to construct in perspective on a three-dimensional plane with such artistry is inspiring. ‘I actually started as a printmaker while I studied fine art at Queen’s in Kingston,’ Heather begins. ‘I loved the process, the scheming, the superimposing of media. Then I just learned along the way. I figured out what I had to do and I did it.’ As we discuss her process – the planning, the textures and the layering which are so prominent in her work – I recognize the natural evolution of an artist.
Heather picks up a new piece she’s been working on. It’s about twenty-four by thirty-six inches square, and eight inches thick. And weighs at least twenty-five pounds. She moves it over to her work table without concern; it’s been built strong and built to last. There are no shortcuts in her craft. Chris and I inspect the piece, constructed for her clients: Isherwood Geostructural Engineers. Over the years, Heather has created a few pieces for their office based on projects they’ve worked on. This particular piece features the intricately-engineered underground infrastructure for the Laird subway station in Toronto, currently under construction and scheduled to open in 2021. The concrete walls, steel beams, pipes and pillars (and whatever else I can’t even name) are still in bare and raw form, and mostly made of wood at this stage.
Heather points out the tiniest string-like details. ‘I’m about four weeks in,’ she remarks. ‘I have another week of building to go because of these intricate cable ties,’ she says, pointing at the steel replicas of actual ties, ‘then at least a couple weeks to paint in oils.’ Knowing what it’s like to illustrate technical drawings and how precise they need to be for clients like engineers, I ask how Heather manages it. ‘I start with a lot of site visits,’ sheexplains, ‘taking photos and really trying to build an understanding of what I’m looking
at and what I need. Then I pull it all together and present the client with a detailed sketch before building anything. It ensures I don’t omit or misrepresent any key pieces.’
Long before our visit winds down, Chris and I find ourselves inspired by the uniqueness of Heather’s craft and discuss with her the journey of finding your creative voice (or calling) and being bold enough to stick to it. ‘Find out what you uniquely do, and do more of it – it is your gift,’ Heather says, invoking Gloria Steinem’s advice to her younger self. A comment worth pondering. ‘I don’t want to do anything else,’ Heather observes with unwavering confidence. ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’
Looking around the studio, I can’t agree more.