In 1968 Simon Kotsch got into the army surplus business. It was good to him, but in ways you might not expect. Something began to happen to Simon as he sorted through his bounty of obsolete engine parts and electrical fittings: he noticed that he found the pieces beautiful. An excitement took hold of him. And then he went to work, drilling and cutting and fitting metal components together to make new things. Beautiful things. He felt “caught up,” he says simply. So began a love affair with military-industrial cast-offs that continues to this day. This was the birth of a sculptor and of a mecha artist.Let us throw aside, officially and forever, the artifice of journalistic objectivity.
I like this guy’s passion and I like his work. When we visited Kotsch’s Victoria St. Studio in Simcoe we were greeted with warm smiles that never went away. Taking joy from your work is one thing, but when you combine joy with the sensibility of a true artist who respects, even loves his materials, the results can be magical.Some of Kotsch’s sculptures look like they could have come from the mind of Jules Verne—grand, monumental machines whose functions border on the mysterious, infused with Kotsch’s concern for symmetry and his acute sense of balance, proportion, and pattern. Others have a strong vertical momentum, like castles or rockets with many levels. But not everything has a sci-fi feel.
Kotsch uses the heft and gravity of larger pieces to create powerful and interesting earthbound sculpture. His ability to recognize, or create, striking patterns makes some of his metal works quite decorative to my eye—and that in no way infringes on their status as works of art.
Kotsch says he “savours the natural colour” of each item, whether it’s aluminum, copper, brass or porcelain (used as insulation in old electrical systems). You will not find much (any) painting here. You will also not find much welding. This, by his own admission, is because he’s not very good at it, and mediocre welding would make a sculpture look awful. He cuts and drills to make pieces fit. One technique he has developed is to take slices out of solid machine parts with a band saw, revealing patterns of copper wire within, like opening a geode.
Simon Kotsch takes obsolete machinery—all of his extensive catalogue of parts predate metric—and turns it into stimulating works of art. We spent about an hour with him, and I left both excited and energized. I, too, had been “caught up.” This is one of the miracles of art for me: through active engagement with an artist’s work a kind of interface occurs between creator and appreciator, mediated through the work itself. I certainly appreciated the skill and imagination of Simon Kotsch, but I think I caught a bit of his love as well. For the Silo, Chris Dowber.
*This article was originally published in Silo print edn. Summer 2010