Men of distinction
Gerd Koch and John White: elder statesmen of ArtWalk Ventura
By Michel Miller 07/18/2013
Though he’d never say it, Gerd Koch knows more than you do — about Ventura County, aesthetics, world travel and probably a handful of other subjects. Thankfully, the 84-year-old artist is securing his life experience for posterity by writing his memoirs. His stories are legion and he loves to share them.
Named ArtWalk Ventura’s Artist of Distinction for 2013, the veteran bohemian’s accomplishments include an artists’ commune established in Ojai in the 1950s, the founding of Studio Channel Islands Art Center (SCIART) at CSUCI, curating 23 exhibitions and a renowned 35-year teaching career (UCSB Extension, Ventura College) that yielded crop after crop of successful careers in the arts for students. Amid all that, Koch’s own body of work (a sampling of which can be viewed at Vita Art Center during ArtWalk, on Saturday and Sunday, July 20-21) has been collected and awarded by the likes of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the famed Ferus Gallery in L.A. In the ’60s, his paintings were photographed by LIFE magazine, and in the ’90s his likeness was used by artist John Nava to represent St. Nicholas for a tapestry series at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. “I believe in grasping opportunities or, if necessary, initiating opportunities,” he says.
Koch is a fervent preacher of the importance of art in practical as well as aesthetic applications, reminding us that “everything that is made by man has been touched by an artist. When you teach art you just don’t teach drawing or painting, but also design. Clothing, automobiles, toasters — it’s all designed,” he says.
Koch’s impact on the region has yet to wane as he celebrates a newly expanded SCIART and continues to take artists and others (nearly 1,000 to date) on guided tours of Europe, where he especially likes to visit the graves of Van Gogh and Monet, consistent sources of inspiration for him.
While most men who’ve seen as many sunsets as he has, tend to slow things down, Koch’s vitality is both unceasing and endearing. “When you are older you have a tendency to reminisce and evaluate,” he says. “Well, I’m not done yet. I have projects in the fire. I guess I’m gonna die in my boots.”
Inside the box
Now in its third year since being placed in the able hands of the art community, following city of Ventura budget cuts, ArtWalk Ventura is finding its own identity amid the multitude of local arts-driven events, and a fresh energy seems to be circulating around it.
New this year is the introduction of PODS moving and storage containers employed as portable galleries and sponsored by local businesses. The 16 PODS containers were donated — during moving season, no less — by PODS president Steve Yapp, and represent the largest grouping of the containers ever used in the U.S. for an arts event. Vita Art’s Mary Perez, who was instrumental in partnering local business sponsors with participating artists, said it’s a great way to get businesses not normally associated with the arts to become involved with the local art community.
John White • Photo by: Chris Jensen
Artist John White, another elder statesmen of regional art and husband of gallery owner/consultant Sylvia White, is using a PODS container to showcase other local talent — namely Kenny Milton and Perez’s son Amadeo, who painted the exterior — while bringing attention to a condition he’s been dealing with for decades: asthma.
Using “souvenirs” from his many visits to Community Memorial Hospital, he’s created a few sculptural pieces incorporating asthma inhalers, hospital bracelets and other affliction-related ephemera. “I’m having a ball,” he says.
Not being able to breathe is no laughing matter but White has managed to lighten the subject while bringing awareness to it. His PODS space, which will be on display at the Museum of Ventura County during ArtWalk, will house a giant, breathing (via audio installation) papier-mâché nose crafted by MB Hanrahan, along with poetry about breath by various writers and White’s own personal statement about the exhibit. “I signed it ‘artist and asthmatic,” he says. “It’s educational in the sense that if you’re an asthmatic and see this you might think, ‘Oh, wow, I never thought of it this way.’ ” Which, fittingly, is what might also be said about the venue for his exhibit. Other artists who are transforming storage containers into art receptacles include Gerald Zwers, Chris Jensen, Stephanie Hogue, Audra Arbas, Brett Jordan and others. “You give them this empty space,” says Perez, “and it’s amazing to see the directions they go with it.”
John White’s PODS exhibit sponsored by CMH.
With the return of the Bowl Hop for charity plus Focus on the Masters’ “Convergence” multimedia and dance presentation, the PODS, the pop-ups, the WAV community’s Eco Arts Fest and all the area’s best in visual art at Stoneworks Studios, Bell Arts Factory, Vita Art Center, Museum of Ventura County, Green Art People and other participating galleries, this year’s ArtWalk Ventura is taking shape as the area’s flagship annual art event.
“Art is something that is very important for any community to support,” says Koch. “The most important decision of my life is that I chose become an artist.”
For more information about PODS artists and sponsors and a complete ArtWalk Ventura schedule, visit westsideartwalk.org.