Ada Koch used to make “cheery” paintings.
“Things like roosters and wine bottles and bicycles and landscapes. A lot of children’s portraits,” says Koch, who moved to Kansas City with her family in 1989, took classes at the Kansas City Art Institute and has been painting since.
“This show is very different,” Koch says.
The work Koch’s hanging this week at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center is about war, loss, love, violence, and, she says, “fears of losing someone I love in a violent way.”
Koch was profoundly influenced by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Shaken by fear of losing one of her children to war, Koch wanted to make work reflecting this new reality. But it took the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013 for Koch to create a body of such work.
“My daughter was living about two blocks from where bombs went off. Her apartment was in the crime scene, and she couldn’t come home a few days,” Koch says. “She wasn’t at the Marathon because she had to work that day, but she had a good friend at the finish line and some of their friends were injured. It really jolted me, and I needed to get some of this tension and fear out in my work.”
Koch began studying historical paintings of war: Picasso’s Guernica, da Vinci’s The Battle of Anghiari, the medieval Bayeux Tapestry, a 230-foot piece of linen embroidered with a depiction of the Norman conquest of England. In mixed-media work incorporating these influences, she started layering images of everyday life, such as children’s silhouettes or scenes of children playing.
Then, a few months ago, Koch met Rosilyn Temple, the executive director KC Mothers in Charge, an anti-violence group of women who’ve lost their children.
“I thought, there’s got to be some link for this, a way my work could help bring attention to their cause.”
Now that’s happening. On Thursday, Jan. 14, Koch’s Leedy-Voulkos show is the setting for a Mothers In Charge fundraiser.
“Her group has grown so much – they’ve been called to speak at events, they work with police – that they need administrative staff and an office,” Koch says. All money donated over the course of the evening will benefit Mothers In Charge.
It won’t just be a party with paintings. Koch has also been working with Kansas City poet Glenn North, who’ll add depth with spoken-word commentary.
Koch and North met while on a committee to review grants for ArtsKC.
“She knew I had been doing a lot of work in what’s called ekphrastic poetry,” North says, explaining that the Greek term refers to a poem written in response to a work of art.
North hadn’t written any poems dealing specifically with war, but he and Koch had conversations about whether they were anti-war, whether war was sometimes a necessary evil, about the war on drugs and the war on poverty.
“We were really trying to see how many questions we could pose and hopefully create art that would inspire some kind of dialogue so we can think more intentionally about war,” North says. “Then, when you look at violence taking place in urban communities and what Mothers in Charge is all about, that brought up a whole other discussion with race and violence in the black community.”
North will read his work at the art opening on Jan. 1, and at the benefit for Mothers In Charge on Jan. 14. In the months ahead, he hopes to publish a book of ten or twelve poems related to the project.
“I’m interested in inserting poetry in spaces you wouldn’t normally see or experience it,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve gotten some really positive feedback when people have gone to exhibits where my work was part of how they interacted with visual art.”
Koch’s goals for the show, she says, “are really to depict this violence and love and loss, but to do it in a way that’s credible and affecting and even beautiful.”
For his part, North says he hopes his poems provide “additional stimulus” that will “encourage people to somehow take some kind of action.”
C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.
"Love, Loss and Violence," Ada Koch's paintings and Glenn North's poetry, opens on Jan. 1 at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Ave., Kansas City, Missouri, 64108, 816-474-1919.