- Eleonore Koch
Eleonore Koch was born on April 2, 1926 in Berlin to a Jewish family. In 1936, to escape persecution, she moved to Brazil, settling in São Paulo accompanied by her mother, the psychoanalyst Adelheid Koch, her father, the lawyer Ernest Koch, and her sister Esther. In 1943, supported by her parents, Koch enrolled in private lessons in drawing with the Romanian-Brazilian informal painter Yolanda Mohalyi (1909-1978), and in sculpture with Elisabeth Nobiling (1902-1975).
In the early years of her artistic training, Koch was mainly interested in sculpture and, in 1948, presented one of these works in the first group exhibition in which she participated. Although she would later stop working in this medium, the training certainly informs her pictorial work. The latter demonstrates detailed attention to the formalization of everyday objects (tables, chairs, clocks, flower pots, and letters) and architectural details, as well as diligent care for arrangement and composition. Six years later, after the Second World War, Koch traveled to Paris to study sculpture with Robert Coutin (1891-1965) and painting with the Hungarian artist Árpád Szenes (1897-1985), who also lived in Brazil between 1940 and 1947, having fled the war. Koch lived in Paris until 1952, where she first met Brazilian artists whose work was affiliated with concretism, such as Geraldo de Barros (1923-1998) and Lygia Clark (1920-1988) – who had also studied painting with Szenes.
After her return to Brazil, in 1953, Koch was already focusing on painting and drawing interior spaces and still lifes. During that period, she was unable to make a living from the sale of her works and was employed, among other occupations, as an assistant set designer for plays and for a local television station. In 1953 two important events occurred in her life: she met the psychoanalyst, collector, and art critic Theon Spanudis (1915-1986) and, through him, she managed to become for three years a student of Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988), with whom she learned the technique of tempera. With Volpi, Lore Koch also learned what he considered to be the painter’s fundamental task, which was to “solve the canvas”. At Volpi’s studio, Koch became closer to the Brazilian concrete avant-garde – for whom Volpi was a central figure. However, Koch insisted on working with figurative painting in a period when geometric abstraction was predominant in Brazil. She also insisted on an expressive and vibrant approach to color and invested in the dense materiality of the pigment achieved by the use of the tempera technique. Nevertheless, her works echo the contact with Brazilian concretism in some essential points: the relationship between figure and background; the play between line and color; the rigorous structuring of the composition, usually horizontal. The artist herself stated in an interview that “although I cannot renounce the object in my painting and, therefore, I am not part of the concrete movement itself, I can say that the problems posed by this movement and the works that result from it fascinate me greatly”.
Lore Koch’s canvases are rigorous derivations of a compositional and formal structuring work whose origins lie in the long and meditative process of creation she pursued through the use of different exercises. The charcoal drawings of interior spaces and still lifes presents an expressive perspective, in which frontal, diagonal, and vertical planes can coexist. They are preparatory studies for the paintings, which already show the isolation of objects, the ample empty spaces, and the structuring function of the line; in the canvases, Koch adds a coloring that renders interior spaces with a melancholic and psychological atmosphere
making it dense and somewhat austere, but not confessional nor sentimentalist. Faced with the difficulty of sustaining herself with painting in São Paulo, Lore Koch decided to move to Rio de Janeiro in 1960. The move is a milestone of a new moment in her production. Although she continued to paint still lifes and interior spaces, she opened up to the landscape, where the first isolated architectural elements, such as arches, began to appear.
In 1968, Koch received an offer to work at the Redmark Gallery in London, where she decisively moved, given the possibility of making a living from painting, which she had been unable to do in Brazil. Her time in London signaled a deepening and refining period in the artist’s work. In the series of paintings dedicated to parks, which began in Regent’s Park, she uses photography to test perspectives and isolate ornamental details. In these gardens, what strikes her are the ornaments: amphorae on bases, arches, statues, and columns.
The elements are subsequently worked into charcoal drawings on paper in which the artist purifies the objects, simplifies the planes and alters the surrounding space. In some cases, there would also be collage work in which the coloring was tested and analyzed in detail. The landscapes, sometimes scenographic and theatrical, manifest a summarized observation of the external world that purifies its elements through a rational method. But it is not a rationalist pictorial space, for Koch attributes a psychological atmosphere that emanates from the meticulous coloring. Furthermore, these landscapes recall the atmosphere of films such as Last Year at Marienbad.
Early in her career, Koch was a set design assistant, as well as keeping, from 1948 until the end of her life, film binders with clippings and notes on the films she watched – among them, the aforementioned film by Alain Resnais. In 1989, she returned to Brazil and a year later traveled to the United States, which resulted in a series of paintings about the Arizona desert. These works highlight the transformations of the landscapes achieved through the different color arrangements.
Throughout her travels, Koch continued to produce paintings of interior spaces, still-lifes and landscapes that manifest the continuous deepening of her artistic research. The selected works that are presented in this exhibition are broad and cover the various phases of Eleonore Koch’s artistic trajectory, from the 1960s to the mid-1990s. The various methods she uses to prepare the composition, as well as the making of her canvases, communicate a meticulous and disciplined rational work. “While it is essential to preserve certain elements of the glance view, I want at the same time to alter it,” writes Koch. Her works require us to linger over them to grasp the dense spatial structuring that is done with few and simple elements, suggesting countless formal and chromatic relationships between them, while they are shrouded in an austere and melancholic emotional atmosphere.
Cristiano Raimondi and Daniel Donato Ribeiro
This exhibition was organized by Travesía Cuatro in collaboration with Almeida & Dale.