John Koch

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Koch, John

Last Updated: Feb-28-2008

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas


Detail by detail, we are drawn into John Koch's painting, done with such precision that we are seduced into believing that he has painted precisely what was before him. His painted world is, however, an artful balancing act of realism and artifice. His interiors are like theatrical backdrops, where his models, like actors, play their roles. The drama of Interlude is actually an entr'acte--a familiar subject in Koch's work--when artist and model are taking a break. In the background, seated on a sofa, looking off to the viewer's right--the painting's "stage left"--is the artist himself. Drink in hand, he gazes intently at a canvas in process.

In the middle-ground, dressed in a brilliant red robe, is his wife, a white-haired older woman, offering the seated young woman-clearly a model because she is not dressed-a cup of tea. The model, seen from the back, sits at the very edge of a day bed. Her dark brown skin is set off against the white sheet beneath her. Especially marked, is the contrast between her outstretched arm and the older woman's red robe. The essential detail-visually as well as symbolically-is the tea cup that is about to pass between them.

In this intimate world of the artist's studio--ten stories above the streets of New York--two women are engaged in an historic reversal: a young black model is being served by an older white woman. The significance of this moment is reinforced by a detail in the setting. What initially appears to be a bank of windows behind the couch is in fact a black-framed mirror. Reflected in this mirror are the canvas in process, the goose-necked lamp that his illuminating his palette, and a bulbous lamp on an unseen table.

Interlude is signed and dated on the painting's lower right: "Koch 1963." It was painted in the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. presented his "I Have A Dream" speech that culminated the Civil Rghts "March on Washington."

Adapted from: Susan Dodge-Peters Daiss, "John Koch, Interlude (1963). In: Marjorie Searle, ed. Seeing America: Painting and Sculpture from the Collection of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY: Memorial Art Gallery) 2006, pp. 275-277.

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