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Dead Wood Comes to Life in Liska's Sculptures

By Bill Skuce for The Tico Times - January 20, 1995

As a young man - born and raised in a small Czechoslovakian town so close to Prague that it is now part of the city - Henry Liska developed a love for nature and what natural forces could do to wood shapes, particularly old roots and driftwood. He studied and worked in forestry in his native land, and it was during that period of his life that he began putting his affinity for natural forms to practical use.

Working with dead tree roots, branches and driftwood, he developed a technique for enhancing the shapes and colors nature's work had wrought. The aesthetic result was disarmingly beautiful.

After he emigrated to Alberta, Canada, in 1968 and began working as a forest ranger with the Department of Lands and Forests, Liska continued to seek out similar forms in his new environment. He worked on them in his spare time and, noting their general appeal, he was able to market his land-worked pieces through Calgary's "Penny Mall" and "Old Cabin". Tourists visiting Calgary for its summer classic "Stampede" proved a lucrative market for them, and many a Liska piece set off from Calgary on the international journey.

In 1987, Liska moved to Costa Rica, and his magic moved with him. Soon he was exploring the Atlantic and Pacific coasts' wood-rich beaches at Tortuguero, Limón, the Osa Penninsula, Sámara, Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Playa Bonita, Montezuma, Jacó, Herradura and others, searching for derelict candidates he could breath new life into.

Since then, quantities of select pieces have passed through his studio workshop, later to be exhibited and sold in some of the area's more prestigious hotels and exhibition sites, including the San José Palacio, the Corobicí, the Alliance Francaise, the Cariari, CONICIT and CONACOP.

Tonight, yet another exhibition of his "Sea Art" will open in the Hotel Herradura's Cultural Gallery and will run until Feb. 3.

It is Liska's on-going love affair with these twisted, curvacious, knotted and pock-marked deciduous forms of nature, his ability to redeem them from beach-bound obscurity and groom them patiently to reveal their inherent beauty, that fine tunes his eyes for the potential in pieces many of us would fail to notice.

He likes to describe his "Sea Art" in a life-after-death context, referring to the rich color, tonalities and textures acquired by the wood during years of exposure to water, wind and the sun's radiation.

Says Liska, "What it doesn't do during its growing time, it does after death with nature's elements." Adding a romantic twist, he suggests that some pieces, depending on ocean currents, might even have come from other continents.

Liska doesn't name his pieces, believing that a title would interfere with the process of viewers identifying forms and feeling agreeable with their own needs and expectations.

"The same piece could be seen in many different ways," he points out. "Only two out ten people might see it the same way."

Liska disclaims any pretention of being an artist. "I'm just a guy with a lot of patience to bring beauty out of wood," he confesses, but eyeing the pieces he has chosen to transform by his magic, one feels the artist category gains something by including Henry Liska.