The Lower Levels - Gerd Koch

Gerd Koch, 1975

(1929 - 2020) Koch was born in Detroit. His father worked for an industrial firm, and one of his first jobs was as a bicycle errand and messenger boy. His parents were German and went to Europe a few times to visit relatives — providing Koch with both an excellent German accent and a love for travel that has never left him. A friend’s mother was interested in getting her son into an art institute, which Koch says started him on a creative path.

“I was a terrible artist!” he insists. “But it was a start. I began to understand what it was all about. I never thought I’d be a teacher.”

His life’s work, of course, tells a different story.

The abstract expressionist is as much a part of Ventura County’s cultural fabric as the ocean and the chaparral-studded hillsides. As an artist, teacher (at Ventura College, where he taught for nearly 30 years), mentor, traveler, collector and community activist, his impact on the local art scene can’t be overstated.

“He is a true champion of the arts, never wavering from his commitment to bringing the best artists to the fore in Ventura County,” says Peter Tyas, executive director of Studio Channel Islands. Koch was, of course, one of the founders of that institution 20 years ago. “Gerd has shaped the arts in the county for over six decades, striving for excellence and working with the most exciting artists and demanding the best from everyone he works with.”

Koch first came to California after graduating from Wayne State University in 1951, when he attended a summer workshop at UCLA. He visited Santa Barbara with friends and quickly fell in love with the sunny climate and local art community. He ended up enrolling in an MFA program at UCSB, and taught UCSB extension classes. “I did it for seven years, 34 classes,” he recalls of his early days teaching at various locations around Southern California. Those extension classes eventually led to teaching positions at both Santa Barbara Community College and UCSB.
H 39 3/4'' X W 29 3/4''

Biography courtesy of