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Fulton artist turns antiques into art

Saturday, October 10, 2009 | 5:00 p.m. CDT; updated 10:38 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 10, 2009
From right, Mark Koch chats with Debby March and Becky Gohring during his art exhibition at Sven's Kafe and Gallery on October 9. March and Gohring meet Koch nearly every morning in an exercise center at the YMCA of Callaway County. Gohring said, "I appreciate details in his work."

COLUMBIA — Mark Koch loves antiques.

He digs up objects at flea markets and antique malls and adds things such as antlers or butterfly wings to create pieces that are intriguing, intellectually stimulating and a bit bizarre.

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“I get a bit of my travel in on weekends, searching rural Missouri flea markets,” Koch said. “You should never judge a barn by its exterior.”

Koch has painted a steak almost photographically with vibrant oils; created a lamp with an antique tripod as its base; and put old diplomas, classic silhouette cutouts, antique children’s vocabulary flashcards and early 20th-century magazine covers inside shadow boxes and gilded frames from the 19th century. He has no formal training as an artist — Koch uses cotton swabs and paper towels, painting on the floor without an easel.

“I like simple forms,” Koch said. “Something that helps you learn but something that’s simple enough to manipulate. I like mixing time periods and styles.”

Mary Johnson and Bob Wallace are both in the antiques business in Jefferson City, where Koch grew up. Having done business with him for the past 10 years, they think Koch has a good eye for the trade.

“I enjoy how he takes early objects and gives them completely different dimensions than what they might have been intended for,” Johnson said. “Until he gets a hold of them, of course.”

Koch wants to create art that makes people think and can be understood by everyone. So when he goes shopping, he tries to make his art accessible by using inexpensive antiques.

“Everybody doesn’t want a big painting of a bee,” Koch said of one of his pieces, “but maybe they like silhouettes or shadow boxes. They tell a story that a lot of people might be able to relate to.”

Kandice Johnson, an MU law professor who said she has known Koch for years, connected with one of his pieces.

“It’s so striking,” Johnson said of a magnified children’s flashcard in a solid black frame with large, bold words. “I would love that for my granddaughter’s bedroom.”

But art isn't a full-time job for Koch. He works with crime victims as a victim advocate in Fulton, where he’s lived for the past 13 years. His caseload includes burglary, child abuse, domestic assault and homicides.

“It’s humanity at its worst,” Koch said. “When we experience loss, it affects our ability to derive meaning. It’s about helping people find meaning again and find their way through a difficult time.”

Koch said his daytime responsibilities have an effect on his artwork.

“When you’re creating something, you’re having a dialogue with yourself about the previous day,” Koch said. “When I paint, it’s not in a quiet environment — I’m usually replaying the day in my mind.”

Koch does feel that control over his art has a calming effect.

“I pick what goes into the shadow box and how it’s arranged,” Koch said. “I create a calm symmetry with order, rhythm and pattern."

Laura Malzner has worked professionally with Koch in the field of victim services for 10 years. She bought a piece of his from one of his shows at Tellers Gallery.

“He’s a consummate professional and a very easy-to-be-around person,” Malzner said. “He’s competent and thorough, and it shows through in his work. It catches you by surprise.”

This philosophy seems to be a constant with Koch.

“The world is kind of exhausting, and I think that there’s an enormous temptation to go home and turn on the television and not have to think,” Koch said. “Art is an opportunity to engage your mind and interact with community and see what people are doing beyond absorbing hundreds of channels through a remote control.”


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