Peter Koch Printer: A Forty-five-year Retrospective at the Grolier Club
Embodied Language and the Form of the Book
September 11 – November 23, 2019
Peter Rutledge Koch has been designing and printing limited edition books, portfolios, and ephemera since 1974. He has long been recognized as one of the most accomplished printers and typographic designers of his generation. His training, influences, and achievements place him in the lineage of San Francisco literary fine press printers. A forty-five-year retrospective opens at the Grolier Club on September 11 and remains on view through November 23, 2019. The works on display, published by Koch between 1974 and 2019, span wide-ranging territory, from cowboy surrealism to pre-Socratic philosophy, and from contemporary and Renaissance poetry to hard-hitting photo-based requiems to the American West.
Koch spent his youth in Montana, steeped in the lore of the American West and witness to its aftermath of environmental and cultural destruction, which continues to influence his work more than four decades later. His aesthetic was subsequently shaped by apprenticeship to the San Francisco printer Adrian Wilson and matured through various imprints in studios in the Bay area.
Koch’s printing career began in Missoula, where he founded Black Stone Press in 1974. The press’s first publication, Montana Gothic (1974–1977), is best described as a cowboy surrealist literary journal. The press relocated to San Francisco in 1978 and closed six years later. Koch subsequently published under press names that reveal his eclectic interests and seriousness of purpose as well as his irreverence: Peter Rutledge Koch, Typographic Design; Peter and the Wolf Editions; Editions Koch; Hormone Derange Editions; Last Chance Gulch; and Peter Koch Printer.
Point Lobos (1987) was Koch’s first mature contribution to the tradition of Bay Area fine press printing as well as his first post-Black Stone Press publication and remains a masterwork. It consists of a portfolio of fifteen poems by Robinson Jeffers and fifteen photographs by Wolf von dem Bussche (Peter and the Wolf editions) housed in a black walnut slipcase.
In 1990, with Herakleitos, Koch began a series of works by Greek pre-Socratic philosophers that ventured into a new realm of art practice. “Herakleitos led me out of the framework of traditional typographic refinement into what I believed to be the arena of the book as a work of art,” he said in a 2015 interview.
The 2005 bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition became a galvanizing point for a group of publications described collectively as the “Montana Suite.” Each work reveals aspects of the transformation of the American West by European migration and the destruction of native territory and traditions through what Koch describes as “photo interventions.”
Poetry—contemporary American, classical Greek, and Italian Renaissance—forms the warp of Koch’s publishing cloth; its weft is the creative work of his many collaborators, whose engravings, etchings, drawings, collages, and paintings accompany and animate the texts he chooses to print.
In addition to traditional codex fine press books and portfolios printed on paper, Koch at times expresses his ideas in varied formats he refers to as “text transmission objects.” Materials include the use of lead as a printing substrate, acid-etched zinc plates, and innovative binding structures and housings custom-designed to support the pages. The Defictions of Diogenes (1994) presents twenty-one short philosophical performance pieces by Thomas McEvilley based on the life of the arch-cynic Diogenes of Sinope (b. 404 BC). The text is hand-lettered by Christopher Stinehour, printed letterpress from zinc engravings onto lead tablets by Koch and housed in a unique ceramic box by sculptor Stephen Braun.
Koch is co-director with his wife, art conservator Susan K. Filter, of the Codex Foundation (est. 2005), devoted to preserving and promoting the book as a work of art. The foundation organizes the biennial CODEX International Book Fair and Symposium, which brings artists who work in the form of the book from all over the world to the Bay Area with support from Stanford Libraries and other institutions and individuals.
The Grolier Club exhibition originated with Stanford Libraries Department of Special Collections, the repository of Koch’s archive.
CATALOGUE: A heavily illustrated three-volume catalogue accompanies the exhibition. For a full description of the catalogue, see www.peterkochprinters.com.
LECTURES and PRESENTATIONS:
Wednesday, September 11, 6:00 p.m. – Curator’s Chat with Roberto G. Trujillo, Associate University Librarian and Director of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.
Wednesday, October 2, 6:00 p.m. – “Against Design: The Work of Peter Koch”, lecture by Russell Maret.
October 18 -19, 2019. A CODEX/Grolier International Symposium: The CODEX Effect: A Conversation Between Artists, Curators, Scholars, and Collectors. For more information and tickets, go to www.codexfoundation.org.