Printmaker John Koch

Printmaker John Koch

  • By: Bob White
  • Photography by: Bob White
Brookie Pool by John Koch

I admire John Koch’s woodblock prints for the same reasons I like the man; they have an honest and rough-hewn quality that I find direct, straightforward and authentic.

Koch and the images he creates are accessible and without pretense; they invite me in and I feel comfortable. When I stand in front of his work, it’s like I’ve walked into a cool barn on a hot day and been handed a mug of cold cider. It’s heady and refreshing . . . and I want more.

There’s something basic and timeless about the process of creating a woodblock print that also appeals to my nostalgic nature. The artist begins with an idea, which is drawn on a blank piece of wood. He then carves the panel with hand tools (Koch uses a mixture of Japanese and Swedish wood-carving gouges) to create a bas-relief plate from which ink can be transferred to paper. The process, with only slight variation, has been used for thousands of years.

Koch uses traditional Eastern and Western printmaking techniques, including the Japanese “Moku Hanga” technique; the reduction process, made famous by Pablo Picasso; and the distinctly American “Whiteline” method.

Regardless of technique, every print is touched by the artist; all are pulled by hand to create a unique and original piece of art that originates from a hand-carved block of wood. I get the feeling that these blocks are as important to Koch as the prints he makes.

“They are the sole link from the artists’ eye to the final print,” he says, adding, “I was talked into parting with one of my blocks once. I sold it for what I thought to be a ridiculous price for a discolored, carved-up piece of maple plank. I felt horrible afterward, and still feel bad today. It was like selling a child. My plan for the stacks of blocks taking up space in my studio is to one day panel the walls with them. That will be something to behold.”

I asked Koch about the subject matter of his work, which invariably touches upon some facet of fly-fishing, and he reminisced, “I remember sitting in the rain on a hard wooden boat seat. Waiting, waiting, waiting for an evening rise so I could watch the old man catch a stringer of brookies for the next morning’s breakfast. The smell of damp wool, and the sound of silk line zipping through the guides on a hemlock-ringed glacial pond—these all are powerful things.”

When asked what is next for his art, he replied, “I don’t ever plan to retire from printmaking. I’ll continue to create and express myself in my artwork. Where this will take me, I have no idea, but I hope to create a large body of work that will be enjoyed for a long time after I’ve gone.”

If you’d like to see more of John Koch’s work, visit www.troutlilystudio.com

Contributing editor Bob White is a writer and artist; see his work at www.bobwhitestudio.com.