LOS FELIZ—Out of the four artists that were exhibiting at the monthly “Vanity Pop” art show at Spitz, I was lucky to first interview the friendly Heather Kohos. Kohos, also known as HeKo, is a lifelong creative that began to pursue art as a serious endeavor after being laid off of her marketing job in the music industry. Though it was a tumultuous time, she tells me now that losing her job ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to her.
“[After I was] laid off, a friend of mine was like, ‘Why don’t you do art more? I learn so much from your art when your post pictures,'” Heather Kohos told Canyon News. Before 2014, she had never sold any of her artworks due to the emotional investment she had put in them. A musician friend pushed her to try it: “She really wanted me to focus on the passion, and do basically what she does, which is work on her craft and only work a job to support that passion.”
Her initial impulse was to start a business that taught others about creativity, called “Artology,” but she soon gave up on that idea and decided to just make art for herself. The “Artology” name stuck in her online presence; the word is always followed by a definition: “the study of mental artness.” However, she tells me she’s moving away from that as she approaches art more professionally: “I’ve actually started recently working with a mentor and he told me to lose all of that and just go by Heather Kohos.” I interject and tell her that I like the name that she came up with, and she responds by saying, “I enjoy it, and I can still use that, but…[Artology] is more cute and cartoony, and the stuff that I’ll be doing under my own name is going to be more ‘fine art.'”
One of the pieces that falls into the latter category is Lower Lake (pictured above), a realistic portrait of her sister. “It looks more like me, but it’s actually her,” she says. Heather paints her sister’s eyes so that they are piercing, especially given the stark white background. She doesn’t look intimidating, as much as intense and assertive in her existence. This seems to be a running theme in Kohos’ work; women going through (often distressing) situations that test them, but always coming out the other end of it stronger and surviving.
I bring this up to her, referring to one of her darkest works, a painting called “She Bathed in Their Blood.” She told me the story behind that one: “A friend and I are real creepy, and we like to watch documentaries about serial murderers. One night we were watching murder documentaries and we started googling stuff, and I found this website of basically every serial murder in the history of serial murderers, and there was this woman; her story was so weird to me, because first of all, women serial murderers are a rare thing, and secondly, she killed over a hundred people…she ended up bathing in their blood, because it made her skin look refreshed and better.” She tells me that when she painted it she was “going through a lot, mentally…It’s kind of a self-portrait, because every character [represents] a thing that was going on inside my head.”
Not all of her work is so serious, though; she has a penchant for creating portraits in which the subject’s features are exaggerated, particularly their necks. “Adeline”, a piece at the show painted in this style, was a commission: “This guy was like, ‘I want a portrait of my daughter with a long neck’…It was a present for his wife. When they opened it, his daughter was like, ‘THAT’S ME! But why is my neck so long?'” I asked her where this quirk comes from, but like many creative choices, it’s hard to pin down the exact origin. (One of the first-ever drawings she posted to her Facebook page is of an ostrich, perhaps it can be traced back to that!) “My therapist can probably tell you more about that,” she laughs.
Despite her joking, Heather has some poignant things to say about creativity. “You don’t know where that creativity’s going to come from,” she says. “A photographer that I posed for a while ago, she said to me, ‘You’re just filling the well!’ and I was like, you know what, that’s true. Every day, every interaction, everything that I see, everything that’s going on, is just filling the well.” That metaphor resonates with me: we all have a well of potential inspiration, even if we don’t see it that way. Our experiences, knowledge, and observations all fill it subtly, whether it be with words overheard in a coffee shop, the shape of a cloud seen in passing, or a documentary about a serial killer. It’s something all artistic souls can relate to, and talking to Heather was something that filled my well for the day.