FRESH FINDS: Dennis Koch

The MG team is constantly on the lookout for new and inspiring artist to work with. Dennis Koch's work--large and energetic color pencil drawings--caught Mia's eye last fall and she's been itching for a chance to collaborate since. Koch generously gave us some time and a chance to dig a little deeper into his artistic process.

LK James: First question is how you came to use color pencil as your main medium--rarely do I see it being used so exclusively and never at such a large and abstract scale as yours. What kinds of freedoms or constraints do they provide?

Dennis Koch: I suppose it's bit rare, but in LA in the early 2000’s there were a number of artist using color pencils in a similar way. Most notably, Mark Grotjahn. I saw his Hammer Projects exhibition at the Hammer Museum in 2005 around the time I moved to LA and it completely blew me away. It was installed in an oval shaped gallery space on the second floor of the Hammer. Curved corners. It was perfect. My first studio in LA was in a building on Anderson Street, just off of the 4th Street bridge, near downtown. The street was constantly being used to film for various TV shows and movies so the parking was always a problem. It was a windowless room with no ventilation and the rental agreement stipulated that I couldn’t use oil paint--which was my primary medium at the time. I decided to use it as an opportunity to focus solely on drawing based materials (ink and color pencils). I think I was also still shell-shocked from the experience of 9/11, even though it was several years later. I thought if I gave my physical body a repetitive task like drawing it might free up my mental body to think about other things, or perhaps make room for new ideas. Eventually, I moved to a much brighter studio near Culver City with more reliable parking. The color pencils stuck.

color pencil on paper, 80 x 51 in

LKJ: What was your process like when you were creating the Scrambled Channel series? How many of those compositions happen spontaneously on the paper and how many of them had you drafted in your sketchbook?

DK: The Scrambled Channel series was an early off-shoot to the Hemispheric Discontinuity drawings. Prior to that, I was making these mandalic blue-ink pen drawings that consisted of numerous quick, concise, spiraling circular marks that I lifted from a doodle I used to make in the margins of my schoolwork as a kid. I had a meditation experience in which I saw a vivid image of two of the blue-ink circular doodles converging in on one another. It felt revelatory even though it was a rather simple doubling or mirroring of something I had been drawing for years. I interpreted the new double set of circles as archetypal of the two hemispheres of the brain and a fractal of all sorts of other thing that mirrored this dividing/converging expression. The Hemispheric Discontinuity series became an exercise in balancing, or perhaps reconciling, the left and right hemispheres of the brain--like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. So this was the milieu that lead to the Scrambled Channel series. I thought I could continue to draw imagery from this internal meditative state in an even more unstructured form than the Hemispheric Discontinuity works. It was a similar methodology to the one used by William Butler Yates and the surrealist of the early 1900’s who experimented with automatic-writing and drawing. Quickly sketching out what I saw after a brief meditation. Sometimes color would be recorded and other times it was intuitively decided upon later. Occasionally, I would come to some sort of understanding about what the imagery was alluding to--an unknown topography or a disembodied face. Other times it remained enigmatic or perhaps even vacant. Scene Missing. I saw a video of the artist Tim Hawkinson using a hand drill to wind-up some wire or plastic. I thought that was interesting so I started experimenting with woodless colored pencil segments in the chuck of my drill and drawing with it. It quickly became the way I made most of the marks for both the Hemispheric Discontinuity pieces and the larger Scrambled Channel works. It was a timely solution to the process and saved me some hand stress, but it also was totally blunt and kind of dumb. It was like the ape head-tilt-moment out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I learned to use an object in an unconventional way. Drill as Bone. Man in a ape suit. Artist as Moonwatcher. 

LKJ: All of your works seem heavily influenced by both math and science, but you studied political science as well as studio art as a college student. Tell me how math and science entered your world and why they have continued to shape your work

DK: Haha, yes, good question! Well, in college I changed my major almost every year so I guess it's not a huge surprise. Psychology, then two years of medical studies (jumping ship after cadaver lab), then political science and studio art. I think I prefer to create a mosaic of information by poking my head into as many different areas as possible and then aggregating the data. Also, avenues in physics like celestial mechanics, or molecular biology, or various types of mathematics, offer models on the scale of the macrocosmic and microcosmic. Art-making seems like a natural, meeting point for coagulating these sometimes disparate states. But to circle back to your question, my interest in science fiction lead me into areas of "science fact." Though over the last few years I feel like I've seen just as much religious-style dogma in contemporary (supposedly objective) science so I'm probably more on the outs--if I ever was on the ins. An Ursula K. Le Guin or Philip K. Dick novel reads more and more like science fact than science fiction to me these days. Walter Russell over Bertrand Russell.

LKJ: I am curious about your sculptural and mixed media work as well. In the Kunz x Krust + exhibit in Munich, The World is Square, you include some of your torus sculptures made from inner tubes and nylon rope (also in your 2011 show at Marine Projects); what can your three-dimensional pieces communicate better than your two-dimensional works?

DK: I envisioned the inter-tube and rope sculptures as a direct 3-dimensional representation of the 2-dimensional Hemispheric Discontinuity drawings. The drawing being a 2-dimensional bisection of the sculptures if you were to tilt the sculptures on their side and look through them. As a 3-dimensional form, I thought it could be a better way of depicting the vorticular implosive motion that's perpetually pulled towards the center point. At the time I was reading a lot about Viktor Schauberger, a German scientist and naturalist from the early 1900’s who invented a number of interesting technologies based on his observations of water and electrical charge. This led me to books on electrogravetics by T. Townsend Brown and more eccentric research by Dan Winter who was talking about how the human heart employs the same implosive motion rather than simply being a pump. It also turned out that Marko Rodin--who is know for vortex-mathematics (and being a weirdo)--was the next door neighbor of a gallery director in Palm Springs that wanted to exhibit the sculptures. The sculptures are a dead ringer for one of Marko Rodin’s Rodin Coils. Later I saw this same shape in the schematic drawings of outsider artist Charles A. A. Dellschau, who immigrated to Texas in the late 1800’s. His elaborate drawings of early dirigibles he called “Aeros” were rescued from a trash heap and later exhibited in New York. So there was a lot of weird connections popping up with these sculptures that were meant to be a somewhat silly extension of the drawings.

LKJ: Your work has been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Munich, Paris, and many other cities/countries. Of course, this speaks to the high quality of your work, but is there any other factor--a particular show or mentor or moment--you could point to that propelled your impressive CV?

DK: My first couple of shows in Los Angeles were pretty exciting and memorable. I got to work with Michael Smoler at High Energy Constructs, and soon after, Claressinka Anderson at Marine Projects. They’re both magnificent people and valued members of the Los Angeles art scene. Wonderful advocates of young artists. I think my last show at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, Tower/Tunnel: Versor Parallel, was some of my best work yet.  I also worked for over a decade in two of the largest LA galleries (Blum & Poe and Gagosian Gallery). It was a fair amount grunt work--installing art and lugging crates--but it gave me an incredible amount of first-hand experience. I got to see how the sausage was made, and in turn I made a lot of good friends.

Dennis Koch
now lives in Iowa City, IA with his wife and three daughters, where--when he's not making art--he does a bit of farming and cattle wrangling.

[Images all courtesy of the artist]
-Gallery shot from Kunz x Knust + (Munic)
-Blue Temples, 2013, color pencil on paper, 72 x 51"
-Untitled, 2013, color pencil on paper, 49 x 51"
-Gallery shot from Luis De Jesus (Los Angeles)
-Untitled, 2016, color pencil on paper, 42 x 34"