Local painter Robert Koch is something of an artistic Rip Van Winkle. From childhood through college he was steeped in the making of art. Eventually, however, his inner artist fell into a slumber as Koch became involved in the raising of a family and the forging of a career as a faculty member of Pierce College where he teaches intensive English. For 20 years Koch's inner artist slept until aroused to wakefulness again by his observing the work of his own artist daughters. Koch the artist is now a man on a mission with lost time to make up for. It is as if he has built up a great reservoir of inspiration, the dam has burst and now a great flood of art is pouring out of the man. A solo show of Koch's paintings, called “Robert Koch Snapshots: Accidental Compositions,” is currently running at Pierce College Fine Arts Gallery. They are scenes of ordinary people involved in the ordinary events of their ordinary lives: having birthday parties, telling stories over beer, sitting in classrooms or slumped on the furniture in their own homey surroundings. As a starting point for these scenes, Koch worked from snapshots of anonymous people. He found the snapshots in a shop in Portland.
“In the shop,” he notes, “there is a big cardboard box of snapshots that people have thrown away. They are a penny each and I have always been amazed at how these obscure photos can have such interesting compositions.” Koch is able to translate these configurations of people, animals and furniture into fascinating compositions with a free and lively use of his media. Stylistically, they are like a melding of late Picasso and the line drawings of James Thurber. Koch's paints are energetically applied and blended and blurred. Crayon and pencil are often employed to define elements of a scene. Koch's fluid style applied to the structural configuration found in the snapshots is a brilliant juxtaposition that results in compelling and often humorous paintings. Like a musician, Koch is able to hit a whole range of tones within his own work. Some of the paintings, such as “What?,” have a soft and creamy quality. Others, like “On the Playground,” are meditatively murky. Even within a single composition the eye is drawn from one area to the next. In the enigmatically titled “Six Student Right,” for example, a wonderfully blended background of muted green sets off the quartet of dynamic figures in the foreground. The four friends are caught in the act of pausing for a moment to ham it up for the camera. The eye is drawn in turn to each of the figures as well as to that sumptuous green background. The show is full of such moments of visual delight. Koch is full of surprises, like the way that he depicts the central figure in “Time For Ice Cream.” A big yellow oval is smudged onto the canvas and the ice cream eater is sketched out within the yellow smudge as if he is the personification of ice cream itself. Now that he has rekindled his artistic life, let us hope the Koch keeps his brushes wet and his inspiration bright. “Robert Koch Snapshots: Accidental Compositions” runs through Dec. 14 at Pierce College Fine Arts Gallery which is located in the Olympic Building at Pierce College. For further information visit http://www.pierce.ctc.edu/dist/art. The artist’s work can be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rwkoch.