The extent to which Marsi van de Heuvel loses herself in her process is made clear when standing back after spending a significant amount of time on a single drawing (her largest to date took two months to complete) she feels completely unattached to it, as though she wasn’t the one who created it. The current subject of her inspiring dedication is the vastness, surreal beauty and mystery of the universe. With the intention to broaden our perspectives of who we are and where we are, Marsi’s drawings appeal to our innate sense of wonder. We spoke to the Cape Town based artist about her fascination with space and how, for her, there was no other avenue to pursue but art.
When did you realise that a career as an artist was something you wanted to, and could, pursue? How have you gone about doing so?
My mother is an art teacher. I grew up with books on art and unlimited material. I don’t think I ever seriously considered doing anything else. I did a night course in photography while I was in high school, and studied fine art at Ruth Prowse. I decided quite early on that doing any other job would be a waste of energy because I already knew what I wanted to do; full time, all or nothing.
You say you’ve been fascinated by space for as long as you can remember…when did you begin creating art in response to this?
Honestly, my first drawing of space was light and silly; an illustration of a dear cat called Max that I lived with five years ago, the drawing was of Max sailing a boat on the Milky Way to the moon. I started making more serious drawings of space two years later after buying an atlas of the night sky, one thing lead to another and before I knew it I’d drawn over 100 images of space.
How has your style or approach developed since you first began making art?
My work has developed from being surreal and personal, to something more accessible. It’s become more about looking out then looking in; broader perspectives, less self-indulgent and more considered. The technique is a lot more controlled and deliberate.
Your process has been described as slow and meditative, consuming of time and self. Tell us more about the way you create your artworks, and why you choose to work in this way.
My technique is compulsive; it doesn’t really feel like a choice. I like the juxtaposition of using countless, simple, tiny marks to represent something infinite and grossly complex. Yet, the process for me evokes similar overwhelming feelings that I get from looking at the sky; no end in sight, intimidation, loss of Self.
A drawing of Omega Centauri, the brightest star cluster in our galaxy, is the largest work you’ve done so far in this technique – measuring at 1 square meter, it took over two months to complete. What is the most rewarding part for you: the process of creating an artwork, or the final outcome?
The most rewarding part is committing to making the artwork and having a vision of where I’m going. The process is a journey of mixed emotions; excitement, flow, frustration, and desperation to finish it. Once the work is complete, it’s strange to look at it, doesn’t really feel like I made it, like I woke up and now this thing is here. I don’t feel attached to it once it’s done.
How much room, if any, is there for spontaneity in your work?
I think there’s spontaneity in the subject matter finding me, it’s like falling in love, you never know who or when, it just happens when you’re open to it. Once I’m consumed by the subject, I spend time learning about it, researching and gathering references. The production of work becomes more planned and considered.
How important to you or your process is the physical space in which you create?
Very important. Preferably I’m alone in a clean quiet space when working. Having another person in the space make me feel too present. I like to lose myself in it.
What are you reading, listening to, looking at and/or watching?
White Lunar by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is great to listen to on repeat, otherwise podcasts like This American Life and Radio Lab keep me company. I’m reading The Soul of the White again by Eugene Maris. Not watching anything currently.
What are you working on at the moment, and what’s next?
I have a solo show in New York at the Rochester Museum of Art, it opens in February and runs for three months. Then taking part in a group show at a new gallery opening in Cape Town called Smith in March and a solo show there around July. I’m applying to do some artist residencies abroad this year. As far as the next subject matter goes; I’m still waiting to be called, could be anything…