There is a lot more to being an artist than the ability to draw a straight line. In fact, when you speak to fine artist Richard Kochenash, you learn creating art has little to do with straight lines. According to Kochenash, art is about making connections. “It is exciting to find a connection,” he says, “by seeing things through someone else’s eyes.”
He points out paintings of a street scene in Chaska and area landscapes. Images like these, he says, connect people to experiences they have had in the past. “It means a lot to people, and it means a lot to me as an artist to help that back and forth.”
Even Kochenash’s journey to become an artist wasn’t a straight line. In the 1970s Kochenash went to college to pursue a degree in the infant field of computer information processing, but an art history class led to a drawing, then a painting class. “Back then we turned in our computer work on punch cards and I handed them in to my advisor, and he flipped through them. I said, “turn them over,” and there were all these pictures I’d done across the back. He threw them down and said, ‘I think you are in the wrong major.’”
Kochenash went on to study Classical Realism at the Atelier LeSueur in France where he also got his start teaching watercolor painting to other artists in the program.
These days, Kochenash can often be found painting in his studio on Second street in Chaska or outdoors. “I work pretty much all the time from real life,” he says. “I take pictures, but with them, you try to make sense of a pattern the camera has taken instead of your eye, and I think that is totally different. When you are there, there is something you connect with that you can’t get from a photo.”
Even this time of year, he likes to be outside as much as he can. “Winter is one of my favorite times. It cleans everything up, you get nice items against a fresh blanket of white—it’s powerful.”
In addition to painting works for exhibit and sale, Kochenash has been teaching beginners, enthusiasts and working artists for decades. “I like the classical method of teaching; I teach people to see. A simple thing, well seen, is exciting. I paint with [the students] and show them every step of the way. I like to have classes that are no more than six people in order to make sure they are getting a lot of one-to-one attention.”
Waconia resident and artist Jane Bodahl took classes from Kochenash 25 years ago, and considers herself fortunate to have been his student. “He is one of the finest teachers because he is so energetic and articulate. He has a way of explaining and demonstrating what he’s doing and inspiring his students. He has a lot of followers. I think all people are creative, but a lot get corrected so much as children they are afraid of the white canvas. They have to say this is just for fun.”
Kochenash agrees. “I think a lot of people don’t realize how much ability they have,” he says. “I get so many people peering in the window, wondering what is going on. I’d like everyone to feel safe coming in here and talking.”
He warns that taking up a brush is not without risk. “With our electronic age, we substitute clicks for using our hand to do things, and drawing upon our heart,” he says. “I have had a lot of people change; maybe they don’t spend time doing other things because now they have found a passion.”
Kochenash offers classes on Wednesday and Friday mornings, and on Wednesday evenings, and by appointment. Regular classes ($150) are three hours long and run once a week for six weeks. Private instruction is available Thursdays ($20/hour). For information, go to rkochenash.com, call 952.738.2505 or visit the studio at 112 E. Second St., Chaska.