Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hot stuff at Pierce College

The Steilacoom campus is featuring paintings by Robert Koch

The Weekly Volcano, December 6, 2012
By Alec Clayton on

The Push
Pierce College has small but outstanding art exhibits on both the Steilacoom and Puyallup campuses. I mentioned the Fall Invitational Exhibition on the Puyallup campus in this column last week, saying that Barlow Palminteri and Becky Knold are both excellent painters. The other two artists in that show are Charles Salak and Karen Williams. I'm not familiar with Williams' work and had not seen Salak's before this week when I was sent jpg images of some of his paintings. He does photo-realist paintings of still life arrangements and of people in contemporary settings that are technically astounding.

Anyone who has ever tried painting in watercolor knows it is a difficult medium to control. Making watercolors that look like photographs would seem an impossible task, but he seems to have done it successfully. I say "seems" because I have seen only photographs of the paintings and can't reliably judge them without seeing them in the flesh.

The Steilacoom campus is featuring paintings by Robert Koch in acrylic and chalk (looks like pencil and maybe some pastels and possibly oil stick). His paintings, like Salak's, depict people in contemporary settings - the difference being that Koch's paintings are expressive and energetic with no attempt at illusory realism. I see in his paintings reminders of Reginald Marsh, a bit of Matisse, and some drawing that is like some of my own early works. Plus, there are definite hints of the great duo Ric Hall and Ron Schmidt (stylistically only; Koch's subject matter is more down-to-earth without the surrealistic touches).

Sad Girl
These are great and unassuming little paintings. The drawing is terrific. The people are people we can all recognize in places and situations we can all relate to. His style is to slap the paint on in expressive blobs and then draw back into the painted areas with contour lines that are sometimes incised into the paint and sometimes float on top of the paint. The lines appear to have been drawn in fast, flowing motions in places and more slowly and deliberately in others. Some of the lines are thick and chunky and others are fine and lyrical.

His colors are dull, low keyed with a preponderance of gray. The figures are slightly distorted and the faces are cartoonish.

In an e-mail sent to me after I saw the show, Koch said he was "returning to painting after a very long absence" and was very pleased to get "some of my work from the last year up on a wall."

I'm very pleased, too.

In a wall statement in the gallery he wrote, "I believe my current use of acrylic paint and pastel chalks is directly linked to using Japanese brushes and sumi ink for the last 30 years." I'll take his word for that, but to me the paintings look to have been influenced by early American modernism more than Japanese sumi.

Many of the paintings seem more concerned with expressive drawing than with paint application, although a few - notably "What?" and "3 Beers a Story" are more painterly.

I particularly like the pencil marks drawn into the wet paint in "3 Waitresses."

My favorites are "The Push," which is the most energetic of all with mostly gray and white paint set up by dashes of orange and a fine contour drawing in a different shade of orange, and "Sad Girl," which is the only one with a close-up of a single figure. It may also be the best designed with a nice use of asymmetric balance.

These are particularly nice paintings, especially considering that the artist has been away from painting for a long time.

Koch is from Olympia but recently moved to Tacoma. He has a show coming up at Dino's in Olympia in January.


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