Kochs’s paintings are constructed as much as they are painted, built up with layers of folded canvas, cardboard, and paper and covered with oil paint, charcoal, and graphite. The resulting surfaces are incredibly tactile, resembling reliefs, and lead the viewer into illusionary space, where subjects bleed into hazy, sometimes abstract fields of line and color.
These painterly grounds serve as the backdrops for a cast of ghostly, almost cartoon-like figures. Koch renders his subjects with a graphic simplicity that blurs facial features and pares bodies down to blocks of color and shape. Sometimes it’s just the faded outline of a person that emerges from the surface, as though the figure has been lifted off an older painting and placed on this new one. The compositions feel more like palimpsests—layers of different times and places—than static, straightforward images.
In NEW MORNING (2014), the outline of a male figure on a boat gradually vanishes into a highly patterned, Gustav Klimt-like background. A SLICE OF LIFE (2014), a titled oft used in this series of works, shows a figure painted to blend in with an abstract, patterned ground. Reduced to little more than muted, monochrome outlines, these figures look superimposed into their settings, even while they are inextricable from them. Both expressionistic and surrealistic, they bring to mind the influential German painter Neo Rauch.
Kochs’s sculptures look like a direct extension of his paintings, particularly the way they seem to have been folded into form rather than carved. But they are, in fact, carved from wood and coated with oil paint. ROBED FIGURE (2014) has a rounded softness that accentuates the drapery of the figure’s clothing. The roughness of the carving shares the nebulous lines of Kochs’s paintings. But the openings in the loops of the woman’s skirt form a negative space that, in fact, completes the figure’s wholeness. What emerges, across Kochs's work, is a figurative rawness that is both visceral and mysterious.
“A Slice of Life” is on view at Black & White Gallery/Project Space, New York, from Oct. 30–Dec. 20.