Heather Hancock  finds natural forms in the facades of our “urban mountains” as inspiration for her mixed-media pieces.

Heather Hancock’s stunning work at the Evanston Art Center’s “Catching Light: the Art of Architecture” is a lot of fun. She presents the glass and steel facades of many famous Chicago high rises in an unexpected medium. The pieces appear from a distance to be photographs, but they turn out to be mixed-media with glass.

The glass pieces shimmer and shine and reflect light in different ways, creating depth and richness within each piece. In addition, the thoughtful groupings of the pieces create another visual pleasure, as the curves and lines of individual pieces are juxtaposed.

Ms. Hancock uses perspective to create drama and to draw the viewer up onto the surface of the facades of what she thinks of as our “urban mountains.”  She sees natural forms in the repeated elements of the windows and beams, thinking of them as “leaf-filled forests or shimmering water.”

At a recent panel discussion sponsored by the Evanston Art Center, Ms. Hancock explained what has influenced her. Her background is in applied neuroscience, and her previous career – helping people with head injuries in the healthcare industry – led her to want to help people live well in a broader way, with access to art and design.

Ms. Hancock said she wanted to encourage people to think in new ways about their environments by engaging with materials such as glass that last “for millennia.” The hardness of these symbols of urban environments is softened by the design of these surprising glass compositions. Even grout becomes a medium for her in its own right.

The pieces also suggest a painstaking process of execution. If one of the challenges of an artist is to make viewers look in a new way at what is familiar to them, Ms. Hancock has presented a body of work that does that in an arresting and rewarding way.

Joining Ms. Hancock at the recent EAC panel discussion were Jodi Mariano, urban designer at Teska Associates, Nathan Kipnis, architect, Pam Daniels, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University’s Segal Design Program, and Jeff Meeuwsen, Executive Director of Ragdale.

Ms. Hancock’s theme for the discussion was the thought that “the aim of life is to flourish, not to survive,” from Lars Spuybroek’s “The Sympathy of Things.”

Each speaker mentioned the various challenges and methods of helping clients and students “flourish, not just survive.”

Ms. Mariano mentioned her firm’s design of the new Fountain Square, with its movable chairs, inviting users to continually redesign the space.  

Mr. Kipnis designs solar homes that engage the client by using sunlight as both an aesthetic and technological asset.  

Ms. Daniels commented on the excitement of working with her students to create original design solutions.  

Mr. Meeuwsen mused on how Ragdale, known for its artists-in-residence program in Lake Forest, works to encourage users of all its programs to “pause and be open to newer art.”

Heather Hancock’s Evanston Art Center show, along with its companion show, artist Jack Nixon’s impressive monumental architectural graphite drawings and etchings, helped viewers want to pause, look closely and flourish.

The shows closed May 26.

Ellen Galland

Ellen Galland has had an architectural practice in Evanston since 1983. For more than 20 years, she has written articles for the RoundTable, including the column “Ask An Architect" and "The Green Column"...