Challenged by South African Artist, Ros Koch.

Who is Ros Koch?

Ros Koch is a South African artist. She was born in England, but moved to SA in 1998. Currently, she lives and works in Stellenbosch (Western Cape) with her family and various animals.

  • Ros Koch Art
  • Ros Koch Art
  • Ros Koch Art
  • Ros Koch Art

She is a self-taught artist who is known for experimenting with different styles, mediums, genres and themes. According to Ros, this is all due to her unconventional route into the art world.

Having spent many years in non-artistic environments, I still have a lot of exploring and experimenting yet to do.

Ros Koch – Bristol24/7

She originally studied Law at Oxford University and at the University of Cape Town. Specializing in youth at risk with the Institute of Criminology and later getting involved in the criminal justice system.

It was an interesting way of learning more about my adopted homeland.

Ros Koch – Eikestadnuus, 11 August 2016

For a few years she worked as a freelance legal consultant, while developing her artistic career in parallel. It was in 2015 when she officially stepped away from legal work and onto the platform as a professional full-time artist.

Wine Art

‘My Stellenbosch’

Of my favourite art pieces is Ros’s Wine Made Art. She experimented with wine as an art medium when she entered the annual Wine Made Art competition run by a local wine estate, Tokara. The theme for that year was, “In my Bos se strate”. In English meaning, “In the streets of my Stellenbosch”.

Experimenting with this medium for the first time, Ros painted different street scenarios of Stellenbosch. Reflecting on the question of who the ‘my’ in the theme was referring to. On her website, Ros Koch Art, she explains how this was an interesting and complex question as Stellenbosch is a town where so many different people find themselves.

It is a place where families have lived their whole lives. Students move to Stellenbosch to study at the University. Tourists staying a few nights for sightseeing or to attend an art fair. It is also a place where people are just passing through, working on the streets, commuting to work or sleeping in the doorframes of shops on the sidewalks.

All these people had a different idea of what ‘their’ Stellenbosch looked like. So, which of these scenarios was she going to paint? And how did they look like?

Wine Art by South African artist, Ros Koch
Verbatim

In the collage, the bottom two and the image in the top right corner remind me so much of my years at University. During 2013 – 2016 I studied at Stellenbosch University, mainly living in a hostel for one year and in various flats for the remaining years – without a car. Which meant I had to walk everywhere.

Apart from being good exercise and occasionally getting soaked during the rainy winter seasons of the Western Cape, walking gave me the opportunity to get to know the streets of Stellenbosch. It is incredible how I can recognize places by just looking at an image.

For example, the images of a building with a bicycle standing in front. This is a painting of a little bookstore called, Verbatim, which used to be on the corner of Andringa and Dorp Street. I used to live right around the corner of Verbatim and walked past it daily. Sadly, since Covid-19 this bookstore had to close its doors.

However, the fact remains that, seeing Ros’ painting immediately brought me into Dorp Street. Standing in front of Verbatim, my University books weighing heavily on my shoulder as I was marching to class a few blocks away.

Two Ladies

That brings me to the two ladies spinning wool in front of an art gallery in Andringa Street. As I passed Verbatim, I always found two very friendly ladies on the right-hand side of the road. They worked at the gallery if I can remember correctly and would explain to tourists how their spinning process worked if they wanted to know.

I’m not sure what the possibility might be that Ros painted the exact ladies that used to greet me as I was walking to class, but I like to believe that it is them. They were always so warm and inviting, despite the fact that it seemed that people tend to ignore them as they went on with their craft. It brings me joy – the thought that Ros took the time to see them and that she captured them in one of her paintings.

Exclusive Books

Then a little further down Andringa Street, there used to be Exclusive Books. Currently, it has been replaced with an independent bookstore, Stellenbosch Books. I’m not one hundred precent sure if this is the exact Exclusive Books Ros painted, but it does remind me of the one that used to be in this street.

With this painting, Ros managed to capture the jarring contrast between people with affluence and those living in poverty. The harsh reality of this is also something that formed part of my student life. Walking to class early mornings you always found homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks. Using shops’ doorframes to shield them from the wind and rain. People begging for money – similar to Ros’ painting of the man in front of the Exclusive Books.

Walking in the streets of Stellenbosch allows you to learn the layout of the city, but it also forces you to acknowledge and interact with the different lives on the streets. In interacting with these lives you are confronted with so many wonderful colours and hardship at the same time.

I love these wine art paintings done by Ros. Not just because they are so beautifully done, but because she managed to capture “my Stellenbosch” experience within these three paintings.

I think this is truly something magical. That an artist can have this ability to create something that connects with strangers.

Ballerina

Now, before you think I forgot about the wine art painting in the top left corner – I haven’t.

This painting is my absolute favourite artwork done my Ros Koch. The fact that she managed to create this with wine is incredible and I just love the pink, plum-purple colours the wine makes on the Fabriano paper.

The story behind this painting is very interesting as well. According to Ros’ website, this painting is called “Looking back” and it is about a young ballerina “musing on her past performances”. Thinking about her past and future career as a dancer and how it is inpacked by the passing of time.

Two visual elements Ros uses to emphasise the fading dancing career is by intentionally leaving the figure incomplete.

Intimating how age frays each of us at the edges, and – in the case of a dancer – emphasising the importance of her legs by the conspicuous absence.

Ros Koch – Ros Koch Art

The other element is by deliberately using red wine as an art medium for this painting. Wine on Fabriano will fade over time. Meaning the actual painting of the ballerina will eventually fade out. This is incredibly impactful and I love how Ros conveys this deep and profound message of time. Not just by what she paints, but also with what she paints.

(If you are curious to see how the Ballerina looks like now, follow this link to Ros’ Instagram post this year.)

Water Colour Art

Again, like with her Ballerina, Ros plays around with an art medium that reflects relevancy to the theme – emphasising the deeper subject matter. In this case, I am referring specifically to how people are judged on the basis of their skin colour and how Ros uses watercolours to point this out.

The Colour Run Series

Ros challenges the viewer’s associations with different skin colours by painting different figures with multiple colours in her Colour Run Series. Blurring the line of their actual skin colour and race. Showing how irrelevant someone’s skin is to who they are as a person, their nature or beliefs.

Colour Run Series by Ros Koch

One of my favourite paintings from this series is the figure doing the washing seen in the bottom right of the image above. This painting is called “Not another bloody pinafore” and it plays with the concept of separating whites from colour when you’re doing your washing.

On the surface level, I enjoy this painting because it reminds me of an older lady who used to help my mother with the washing. Like the figure in the painting, she was sturdy, wore a dress or skirt and had a cloth rapt around her head. However, seeing the colourful fabrics she’s hanging up on the washing line also reminds me how I learned – the hard way – how bright fabrics can dye white fabrics when washed together.

But when you delve deeper this becomes an incredible image of white and colour segregation. Reflecting the history of South Africa during Apartheid, but also posing a question to the viewers of today.

The viewer chooses their own perspective: simply see the paintings at their surface value or else delve deeper – into the murky waters of race, prejudice and segregation.

Ros Koch – Ros Koch Art

I never saw the metaphorical possibility of the everyday act of doing laundry. It is so playful and clever, taking something that might not seem relevant to the subject matter and flipping it. I think that is what makes this art piece so moving.

It lingers and every time I’ll do the washing, dividing up the different fabrics, I’ll think of this.

Ink Art

Apart form wine art and water colour paint, another flowing-liquid based medium Ros Koch plays with is ink.

Sometimes I enjoy retreating into the monochromatic world of ink. Its level of contrast brings certain elements into a sharper focus when a more colourful image distracts the viewer from those elements of the picture I want to explore further.

Ros Koch – Ros Koch Art

This brings me to Ros’ ink series, “Beast of England”.

Beast of England

In this series, Ros uses ink, water and bleach to paint different characters from George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm.

Ink on Paper by Ros Koch – Part of the “Beast of England Series”

My first interaction with Animal Farm was the 1999 film adaptation directed by John Stephenson and written by Alan Janes. As a child, I always found the story to be very tragic and upsetting. I could not understand why the other animals on the farm kept listening to the pigs. I remember urging them to just leave and abandon the farm, but they never did.

In High School, Animal Farm was one of our prescribed novels. How sickening I felt when my older self realised Orwell’s novel was inspired by historical events and people.

By painting these characters, Ros reflects on what each character symbolises in George Orwell’s novel. Allowing the viewer to see and reflect on it as well.

Giving back to the community

It is evident by looking at Ros’ art that community, equality, love, acceptance, charity, forgiveness and freedom are subject matters that are very important to her. I believe this to be a result to her being so aware and involved in her own community.

Here are only a few ways Ros has been involved in her community and using her art as a platform to create awareness for it:

  • Last year she held an online art fundraiser for Mandela Day. Selling her paintings to raise funds for the Tembalethu Creche. 100% of the profits went to funding PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for the creche so it could reopen during this Covid-19 pandemic.
  • This year on Mandela Day (18 July) she planned another art fundraiser, donating the proceeds to The Pebble Project Trust. A non-profit organisation that works in enriching the lives of disadvantaged children and their families in the South African farming communities.
  • Apart from the Mandela Day fundraisers, earlier this year on the 4th of May 2021, Ros ran a fundraiser campaign that included her swimming from Robben Island back to the mainland, Bluebergstrand (SA). All to create awareness for mental health and to raise money for HerVoice. A non-profitable organisation that provides support for the woman of the community.
  • I am aiming to raise both awareness and funding for both counselling training and services to be made available for women in my local community via @finding_hervoice.

Looking Forward

I’m eagerly keeping a watchful eye on what Ros Koch will do or create next. Thank you, Ros, for the inspiration you are and for creating art that challenges our perception of life!

If you are as curious as I am and want more info on what Ros will be up to next, follow her on Instagram at @roskochart and check out her website, RosKochArt.

Other Sources

Irene

Art, in all its forms, has the power to make the viewer see the world with new eyes. It tells stories, creates awareness and changes our perspectives. This blog is dedicated to appreciating art and artists. Focusing on how they bring colour into our ordinary lives.

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