A Painter Who Goes From Humor to Intensity

By Thomas Albright
San Francisco Examiner - June 9, 1976

Frank Koči observed his 72nd birthday last weekend, and a group of his collectors helped celebrate the occasion with a massive retrospective exhibition of his work, which runs through this Sunday at 63 Bluxome Street.

But chances are you don't know who Frank Koči is. A native Czech, one-time cowhand, merchant seaman, movie extra, etc., Koči taught himself to paint 25 years ago, and has since turned out more than 5000 works. He has been heard to proclaim himself the next Picasso, and his partisans have sometimes called him today's Van Gogh; on the other hand, similar things have been said about Bufano and Pat Cucaro.

The current show provides some confirmation for almost any judgement, for beyond all else, Koci has been uneven as well as prolific, and no effort seems to have been made to separate the cream from the milk among the 150 or so works on display.

They separate themselves easily under observation, but there are enough outstanding remaining to establish Koci as a painter of uniquely personal vision, capable of combining robust humor with bold, expressionistic directness and intensity.

His best paintings and drawings are the work of a canny "naïve," filled with allusions to Nolde, Ensor, Picasso, Kokoshka, Rouault, Cuevas and others, yet all recycled through his own blunt sensibility. Frequently, he masses stylized, mask-like faces or anonymous crowds of full figures, bounded by bold black outlines, into shallow, compacted spaces, their claustrophobia heightened by darkly harmonized colors and richly worked surfaces that assume the glowing intensity of stained glass.

In other paintings, Koči will line hooded silhouettes across a horizon line like figures in an Egyptian frieze, as in "Death of the Church" (the traditional expressionist triumvirate of Church-Business-Military are frequent targets) or splay the profile of a single head boldly against a flat color ground, as in his "Nun With a Five O'clock Shadow."

Koči's penchant for caricature sometimes carries him into broad farce, as in many of his nude paintings; some of his more portrait-like heads -- indeed, some examples across the boards of his varied repertoire -- seem to have been casually dashed off. But in other paintings, his visual satire is trenchant, his insight is penetrating and his fantasy is fresh and durable, as in his nostalgic views of Old Prague and whimsical landscapes.

At any rate, his work is all of a piece, the product of a personality that seems willing to risk obviousness for the sake of the raw vitality which, at his best, he is able to achieve.

Understanding Suffering Essential, Says Funny Artist

By John Dell, News Press Staff Writer, Santa Barbara

"I really hate San Francisco, and that's why I stay there. People that live there go because it's a retreat and a punishment. I think they're all masochistic."

These are the words of Frank Koči, artist, philosopher and writer in describing his home town. Mr. Koči is in Santa Barbara during a show of his paintings at the Museum of Art. His works have been on exhibition since Oct. 23 and will continue showing until Sunday. It is his first museum showing.

"I'm a senior citizen," continues Mr. Koči. "I've reached the golden age. Life begins at 50. Therefore, that disposes of everyday cliches. Now, let's get down to the nitty and gritty. You see, I'm more of a philosopher than an artist."


Frank Koči was born in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, and emigrated at the age of 16 to Texas. "I was the champion cow milker of Austin in 1922. In 1923, I excaped from Texas and went to Los Angeles."

Frank Koči's past includes working as a cowhand, as a movie extra and as a merchant seaman.

A self-taught artist, his paintings and drawings have become known during the last two years in the San Francisco area, and have been selling. He started painting in 1951 as the result of being inspired by a television artist's canvases which he viewed while working as a janitor in a Hollywood studio.


I've lived in San Francisco for 40 years," Koči says. "During that time I've been in other places for months at a time, but I consider San Francisco as home port. The town's been good to me, and I'm one of the luckiest people there.

Mr. Koči is enthusiastic about his paintings. "I don't like to sell my paintings to accommodate people's neuroses. They tell me they want a painting of a certain color, and I say, 'To match what? Your nose?'"

"I like to get money for my paintings. People say to me, 'How can you bear to part with that lovely picture?' Well, no matter how infatuated an artist is with his own work, he has to remember that he can't eat beauty and spirituality.

"Understanding the real meaning of suffering is essential to an artist," says Mr. Koči, "and so is humor. I've sold a lot of paintings for the funny titles alone. My method has proved successful:  The best way to get something done is to convince people that your humor is genuine."

One painting on exhibit at the art museum depicts a group of reveling merrymakers whooping it up and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The title is, "Not in Santa Barbara You Don't."

Another is a surrealistic group of gray looking people titled, "Dialogue -- Senior Citizens."

Other Koči paintings are called "Madonna and Boris Nixon," "Madonna and the Salami,"  "Madonna on the Way to the Supermarket" and "Madonna and Pre-Soak Enzyme Detergent." "I painted 32 madonnas," says Mr. Koči.


When he sin't painting madonnas, Frank Koči paints topless and bottomless waitresses he's seen in North Beach and other parts of San Francisco. Also on display at the art museum is a topless nun.

The humor of Frank Koči is evident in his manner as well as in his pictures. His comments are many and varied. He describes a lavish party attended by some 60 people on his arrival in Santa Barbara, and concludes with "That's an awful lot of honor for a guy who used to come through this town in a boxcar."

Explaining that his paintings were on exhibit may be sold, he says, "I hope they have some surprises for me. I'd hate like hell to pack all that stuff back."

On Santa Barbara in general he says, "Santa Barbara better tremble and be on its good behavior, because I'm taking notes. I can always tell everything about a town from its newstands," he says, "and Santa Barbara is really a straight town."

He doesn't like the sewage smell on East Cabrillo Boulevard. "These people are polluting their own water. It stinks like dead fish from Japan or Kamchatka, dead fish with a Spanish flavor. Is it from the Japanese current?"

He describes the story of his life as "The story of a man who is unsung and as yet unhung."

He describes women coming up to him and admiring his accent and wishing that they had one, too. "Just don't put any adhesive on your dentures." he tells them. "and you'll really have an accent."

When people ask him if he is Russian, he says "No, I'm working out of East Germany."

Asked if it is true that he hadn't left the San Francisco city limits for 15 years, Frank Koci was quick to admit it. "I did go to Roseville, though," he says, "but that didn't count."


"A lot of people think that I am an old hippie," he says, "but I'm not. I don't have to take drugs to trip out." One of his favorite quotes on the subject is from Nietzsche:  "The ecstasy of Plato was not the same as the ecstasy of a camel driver who smokes hashish."

"I can visualize things without drugs," he says, "Sometimes I even sing in the morning. But if I sing in the morning, I'm done. I have to be vicious, grouchy and quarrelsome in the morning. I become reborn in the evening.

"When I say an artist should experience suffering, I know what I'm talking about. I myself had a tragedy not long ago. My television set blew up. I can't watch 'I Love Lucy' anymore."

On discussing the pop artist, Andy Warhol, Koči says, "He goes in for that pop goes the weasel art, or whatever it's called. The difference between Warhol and myself is that he paints the soup cans, and I eat the soup."

Asked why he paints such out of the ordinary pictures, Koči says, "The only way you can get back at the snobs of the world is with a dose of vitriol. I really can't help it; it's my nature. I like to think that the chaos and confusion of the cosmic is in my paintings. But I make fun of myself most of all."

KOČI ---

By B. Eremia, June 6, 1969

At last the head of a clergyman; glares of malice emitting from that paranoid lascivious shift. Yet in that same face, three others are sleeping. First, inferior maxillary, second, in the zygomatic arch, finally, occipital --- compassion has not escaped. But this anti-Christ has been tricked. Hooray for mother!

A minister without portfolio is a historian of injustices. Frank Koči's purpose consists of a bitter revelation of dehumanization, perpetrated by institutions designed to protect and elevate the human spirit. The military, the church, and the use of sex have failed to deliver any promise. Any existential joy would do.

Koči's work maintains that one's individual psychological being is never of another category but commands and is commanded by these forces. Thus, while one is a perpetrator, he may also be its victim. In making manifest Demonic forces (such natural urges as power, sex, anger) that have overtaken the person, Koči will use imperative line to develop heteromorphic sequences, whereby many faces may be seen in one face, or some animal form develops into a facial characteristic.

But wait, which Frank Koči are we discussing? It must be obvious that there are too many Kočis and we must suffice it to say that he is a painter. The reader, therefore, is advised that he may disregard the above and further description in this matter is forthwith terminated.