John Koch was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1909. He had very little art training, but attended two summers at the artists’ colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he was influenced by the work and theory of Charles Hawthorne. In 1928, he went to Paris. There he studied and painted the masters in the Louvre for four years. He developed his signature style of portraying light from not only natural light sources but artificial sources as well. John Koch’s interpretation of the effects of light onto surfaces adds to the drama of his scenes. His emphasis on light and atmosphere are reminiscent of Dutch master Jan Vermeer in the way he creates intimate interiors. Returning from Europe, he moved to New York and painted the people and places in he saw in his life. His early work is more impressionistic, but he would become known for his realist style of painting.
Realist paintings and portraiture were not the fashion of the time in New York. John Koch resisted the trends toward abstraction and created his own private world within which to paint and draw inspiration. His paintings are an intimate reflection of his own Central Park West, fourteen-room, apartment in the El Dorado. Koch was interested in portraying the sophisticated community he lived among—painters, models, and musicians like his wife, Dora Zaslavsky, a prominent piano teacher at the Manhattan School of Music. His paintings frequently focus on the interaction between people and the space around them. As Koch once said, “I am quite visibly a realist, occupied essentially with human beings, the environments they create, and their relationships.”
John Koch had a very successful career painting commissioned portraits of prominent New Yorkers. His process was methodical. First, he planned the composition and created a sketch to determine the placement of each element. Next, he would sketch his models from life and often separately. These sketches would be enlarged and traced onto the canvas and finally he would begin to paint.
“What I paint has been created in New York out of the substance of the city, but it is very much a thing that I have made myself.”—John Koch