Happy New Year everyone! I'm delighted to kick off 2018 with an interview with Canadian Artist Heather Kocsis. Heather creates intricately detailed architectural dioramas. I find her work so inviting, I hope you do too! Enjoy:
Please tell us a little bit about where you live. What is it like being an artist there?
I live in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, about one hour west of Toronto. I enjoy being here; I am close enough to the metropolis of Toronto and it is a short plane ride to New York City. It is fun to jump out to see a broader vision of the world, learn and grow, and come back home to work in a more grounded environment with access to nature and being closer to family.
Have you always known that you're an artist? When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How has your art career evolved?
I have always wanted to make art, but I wanted to do it in a way no one else had….
I was skilled in the arts, with draftsmanship and seeing things differently in school and I followed my heart to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. However, it was not until I was in my early twenties that I had an opportunity to work with a group of artists within a project that supported using our creative abilities to become self-sustaining.
It was during my first public exhibition that I sold a piece of work and I was so excited, I thought to myself: “I may be able to do this as a living!”
Somehow, following the signs has led me to where I am now, with determination and commitment. It is always about learning.
Are you a full time artist or do you also have a day job/side hustle? If you do have a day job, does it tie in with your art practice?
Currently, I am full-time. In the beginning (1999), I was supporting myself by using my creative skill as a printmaker to teach workshops and print custom products such as wedding invitations, as well as making and selling artwork. Now I am focussed on commissioned artwork and selling directly to collectors who have followed my work.
Can you talk a bit about your process? How has your work evolved over time? What are you working on right now? What's new or different about it?
I am inspired by architectural elements, whether it is our everyday built environment where we live and work, or details that are rich in texture and design, but still have an element of familiarity that will connect to us emotionally. I will capture a scene or detail photographically, and then bring it to life by building with the textures and layers of various woods, (primarily plywood) to create a wall-sculpture. I then paint the artwork with oil paint, which is the fun part, because it brings everything alive and into a new dimension. Over time, as the workmanship of assembling and building the structures has evolved, so has the colour palette and compositions. I choose colours that are lighter and brighter, as well as more interior spaces, where the viewer can feel they are being drawn into the artwork. I am also incorporating more nuances of nature into the pieces, more life and a human element, like a watering can.
I am having fun creating little miniatures from scenes from my last trip to Italy. I have wonderful photos of Cinque Terre, with the fabulous colour, architecture and nature and how people lived in such a beautiful part of the world.
Your work occupies a very unique niche. I love the three-dimensionality and architectural accuracy of you assemblages. How did discover your voice as an artist?
Architecture is my metaphor to connect with people. My early prints were very textured and expressive, inspired by the expressive painters like Robert Rauschenberg and Vasily Kandinsky.
Within my prints, I used the images of childhood photographs to evoke feelings of nostalgia and to transport the viewer to a different time and place.
I did not have access to a printmaking studio in Cambridge, after university. I was preparing for an exhibition, and while painting in my studio one night, I noticed a reference photograph of an urban streetscape laying on the floor. It had fallen next to a piece of weathered plywood. In that moment, the texture of the plywood echoed the texture of the buildings, and it was a completely inspired moment. I impulsively picked up the piece of wood and began to pry it apart, using the layers as a paintbrush to re-create the photograph. This technique satisfied the technical engineering mind as well as the physical need to build with my hands. I call the wall-sculptures “wood-assemblages”. Since that moment, I am continually inspired to build. I want to move people, make them think, and I want the pieces to stand the test of time. I am not claiming to have achieved this, but everyday I try to.
Are there certain themes that show up in your work over and over again?
Capturing time-kept places and the feeling of being at home or returning home; whether it is within yourself or literally.
What is your studio practice like? Do you have any rituals or routines that help you get into the creative zone? Do you ever get creative blocks? How do you get unstuck?
My studio space is separate from my home, which is imperative for me to go to the studio everyday (with days off) to be within that environment, even if I am between commissions or a new project. I find being within the studio reminds me of what my purpose is. If I am stuck, I will at least organize, or clean, or cut a piece of wood, to help get me out of my head. Sometimes it does take me awhile to get into the zone, if I am working on a project with a deadline, (since my work may take a little longer to see results because it is so detailed), I will do something very immediate on the piece to see I have made progress, such as cut a large piece of wood and assemble it within the composition.
Let's talk about work/life balance. How do you balance family life, studio time, business and time for yourself?
I admit it is challenging, since I could be in the studio 10 hours a day, which obviously is not very balanced. I write down my priorities of what my ideal work day/week looks like. It does change when I have deadlines, or preparing for a show. However, I recognize that breaks are necessary. I think even Leonardo DaVinci championed taking breaks because that is when your best ideas may come and it puts things in perspective. So I know my health is important and exercise, rest, and spending time with family and friends. Using a daily planner where the entire month is laid out in front of me is extremely helpful and I schedule things in with the priorities in mind. I also do not beat myself up if I do not get everything done in one day.
Who (or what) are your biggest creative influences?
I love travelling and immersing myself into a different culture; interacting with people and nature. It offers a different perspective on things and helps me grow. I enjoy listening to other people’s stories. It helps me connect to people and learn about myself as well. I also look within myself to be inspired; meditation and spiritual growth is very important to me.
What does being an artist mean to you?
I believe being an artist is simultaneously a responsibility and a gift. We, as artists, have the opportunity to see things differently and offer that alternative perspective to the world to add value. I think it is about finding your inner voice and embodying and cultivating who you are, rather than trying to become something.
If you could give your 20 year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Laugh more and be kind to yourself and others. It will all work out.
Do you have any questions or comments for Heather? Add them to the comments below!