Heather Kanawa’s Investigations of Life at BoxHeart Gallery | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Heather Kanawa’s Investigations of Life at BoxHeart Gallery

Mixed-media works pulsate with life

“Dispersed,” by Heather Kanazawa
“Dispersed,” by Heather Kanazawa

Heather Kanazawa does not paint portraits, landscapes or still lifes, but memories. Her predominantly abstract works layer oil paint and wax, supplemented with bits of vintage fabric, in spindly, hazy compositions that spatter and wend across canvas: highlight reels of color and movement. Investigations of Life, the collection of recollections currently installed at BoxHeart Gallery, specifically documents travel remembrance, the sights and sounds and scents of time recently spent in Japan. The Pittsburgh-born, New York-based artist has placed particular emphasis on commemorating interactions with the natural world, suggesting tree branches, mountains, leaves and water; that world’s relationship with the man-made that surrounds and intersects with it; and how both the organic and the synthetic are perceived when filtered through the practice of Zen.

In a description of her work, Kanazawa says that she has total recall of her experiences. The memories she summons during the creative process, captured through rigorous attention that anticipates the need to someday reference them, are pitch-perfect and fully realized, free of blanks or blurs and solid as concrete. But what her work can evoke for the viewer is a different kind of memory translated to imagery — not the kind we can stand before and observe with clarity and precision, but the kind that flits elusively around the edges, seemingly solid when hovering in the periphery, ethereal and dissolving when we try to contain it head-on. We can sense and almost pinpoint something representational lying in wait within the gauze of the abstract. We can almost bring it into focus, but we just fall short. 

What we can perceive in Kanazawa’s works, in this gathering of a dozen-and-a-half pieces, is vibrant and exquisite. Form and hue join in motion steady as a wave or unpredictable as an avalanche, conjuring environments here vast and unstoppable, there minute and contained. Color mottles and blotches, reaches out gently like delicate tendrils or pushes forward in explosion. Every surface pulsates with life, overflowing with movement and booming with sound, no matter how we look at it, and we’ll be inspired to examine every inch as thoroughly as we can. 

While the details may confound and puzzle our eyes, it’s evident they’re crystalline in Kanazawa’s mind; that which remains tenuous makes what we regard electrifying, deepening something simply beautiful with the thrill of seeking what is hidden. 

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