James R. Koss ~Washington


Economy, fluidity, density. In our minds a much under-recognized major artist working in the book form, Jim Koss usually creates one-of-a-kinds combining his own text and images. He has been creating for over three decades, having produced over 150 bookworks. His poetry is dense, his images clear and elegant, with color that has the rightness of dappled sunlight. Like the best art, his work demands metaphors because there is no parallel. As one observer noted, "insistent clarity."

Click here to see Insistent Clarity by Lauren Dudley: a full length documentary about artist Jim Koss, including original poetry, letterpress printing, drawing, painting, woodblock and monotype prints, paper cutting and collage.


Water Drop
By James R. Koss
Seattle, Washington: James R. Koss, 2008. One-of-a-Kind.

11 x 3.5" closed; 11 x 28" extended. Letterpress text. Japanese paper collage. Bound with Kodai Nishiki Yuzen Momigami papers over museum board. Hinged with Japanese bookcloth sewn with silk cord.

Original poetry and art by Koss. Layers of collage forming colorful geometric patterns.

Water drop
to old leaf
plied thin
rock tier
smoothed to
shim crack


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A Harvest
By Jim Koss
Seattle, Washington: The Farmhouse Press, 2002.

18 leaves, each 10 x 10.625". Text – title page, 18 line poem, and colophon – printed letterpress in Bembo on Arches Cover. Fifteen Prismacolor drawings, each 3" square, one to a page, on Arches Cover. Each page is matted in 4-ply museum board. Housed in clamshell box (10.625 x 11.375 x 3") covered in Japanese bookcloth over museum board. Gap in one side to allow for easy lifting of pages. Paper title label tipped on top of clamshell.

This format of a boxed portfolio of images accompanied by a poem or poems is one that Jim Koss has used successfully throughout his career. Here, a poem sets the stage for a series of quiet surrealistic drawings.

Jim Koss (personal email): "Around 1986 I began working with the idea of 'harvest time.' Autumn is my favorite season. The sense was to deal with a theme of something ending while also beginning. I grew up mostly in the midwest, & loved going out among the farms in Illinois to see the landscape. I was also thinking about Ed[ward] Hopper & the tension in his seemingly ordinary images. So I wanted a picturesque atmosphere of apparent reality while hinting also at mystery. Over subsequent years I made eight books along this theme, always with 'harvest' in the title. All had Prismacolor images & a single page of text…. All were portfolio-style, boxed. There is no order to the pages. The one you have is the last in this 'series.' … For as long as I've been putting words & images together I'd always intended that one would not illustrate the other, but that each would follow the same narrative according to their own strengths. Telling a story in words is very different from telling a story in pictures. They can't be the same, because the mediums are totally unique. And I've always bounced between representational stuff & abstract stuff, according to the direction of the idea. Therefore, the relation between text & image may be seen as an abstraction too, regardless of what the images may portray. It's my way of involving an audience as music might: when you listen to something, like the Etudes by Shostakovich, you may make a visual connection that resembles an idea more than an object, but an object nonetheless. It's not my business to tell people what to see but to present possibilities. This may be why people have opinions. … I like A Harvest a lot, & maybe I understand it, or maybe, like music, I just let it work on me as a thing to be understood, eventually."

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Only When the River Moves
By Jim Koss
Seattle, Washington: The Farmhouse Press, 2002. One-of-a-Kind.

12.25 x 10 x 2.5"; 16 pages. Sewn accordion structure. Printed on Arches Cover with each page matted in 4-ply museum board. Seven images, cut paper (shibugami) with silk (shabari) backing. Text letterpress printed in Goudy and Bembo. Bound in Japanese bookcloth sewn with silk thread.

Only When the River Moves combines elegant paper cutting with short, simple lines (verses?) of description and commentary. The paper cuttings and the text alternate panels, each panel with a sharply cut mat that frames and focuses attention, either on the intricate paper cutting with its silk backing providing depth and texture that the eye can feel and on the simple but allusive words. The mat frames are all the same size, all positioned in the same place on the panel. If the book is opened like a codex, two panels at a time forming a spread, the left page holds the paper cutting, the right holds the verse. But each spread is a vastly different experience. Same and not same, the coincidence of opposites occurs throughout. The rich brown of the shibugami paper (kozo laminated with persimmon tannin) contrasts with the expanse of white mat surround. The weight of the color is belied by delicacy of the paper cutting. The delicate letters of the verses contrast with the solidity of what is written. A river moves yet seems to stay still. And, as the last verse says: "Restless truth / accompanies you / though I see / then as now." This melding of opposites has an Eastern flavor. Indeed, the earliest paper cuttings are from 6th century China. But this book is simply rich art: motion stilled, life poised and presented, quietly and with reverence.

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A Compass
By James R. Koss
1994. One-of-a-Kind.

13 x 12 x 3" closed, 17 pages. Fourteen paintings, gouache, ink and watercolor. Each painting 4.75 x 4.24" on 555# Arches. Printed using Van Dijck & Engraver's Roman type. All pages mounted in four-ply museum board mats adhered with PVA Portfolio-style. Contained in a Japanese-style enclosure.

Sandra Kroupa [Special Collections, University of Washington], 'Jim Koss: insistent clarity / bookwork 1992 -1996: "Koss is adept at many kinds of image making: painting, drawing, printmaking, papercuts and collage. He uses oil, graphite, watercolor, acrylic, gouache, and Prismacolor. He creates his own Suminagashi papers, the Japans form of marbling. He does monotypes, monoprints and letterpress. Koss looks to the natural world; texts and images constantly refer to landscape, rock, water and sky. ...

"Koss has also been influenced by the human world. Some work features machinery, ... in a violent world of rattling sounds and shaking motions. In 'A Compass ' (one-of-a-kind, 1994) the machines are more abstract and benign, the compasses helping to find the way home."


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James R. Koss Out of Print Title:  

The Leaping Wheel
By James R. Koss
Seattle, Washington: Piece of the Moon Press, 1986.

8.25 x 10 x 5.25"; 78 leaves. Accordion structure. Eve types handset and printed on a platen press. Thirty-four miniature watercolors (2.25 x 2.125") in modified pointillist style . Arches Cover paper. Bound in maroon covered boards with paper title on front board. Laid in beige cloth-covered four-flap wrap box with paper title label on spine.

Thirty-four 6-lined poetic gems (stanzas?) printed in deep black ink, almost incised, on the left half of each double spread are balanced by the thirty-four delicate watercolors on the right, each image composed of short, precise strokes. The Arches Cover paper has been French folded and the watercolors are framed by a window cut in the top sheet and anchored by sewing with long stitches, notably 4 X-shaped stitches about one inch from the viewable corners of each watercolor. They obviously anchor the paper on which the watercolor is painted, which is larger than the painted image. There is indeed more than we can see.

Each stanza takes about as much space as the facing image. One echoes the other without copying. The overall effect is lapidarian, gem-like, quiet, precise and yet warm, even soft, alive. This is a journey of living, as if Walt Whitman had acquired discipline and found Buddha.

A quotation from Melville's Billy Budd with its sense of the concreteness and precision of life's mystery aptly serves as an epigraph:
     ... prescribe to them directness, sometimes far-reaching
     like that of a migratory fowl that in its flight
     never heeds when it crosses a frontier





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Three Forks
By James R. Koss
1996. Edition of 2.

14 x 11 x 1.25" closed; 6 pages. Four images, color monotypes printed from plexiglass painted with printing inks. Images on heavyweight Rives. Van Dijck types handset and printed on a Vandercook #4 letterpress. Text on Canson. Accordion style binding with 4-ply museum board mats. Hinged with sections of Japanese bookcloth sewn together with linen thread. Images and text mounted behind windows in the museum board. PVA adhesive. Hinged with Tyvek. Covers doubled 4-ply museum board wrapped in Japanese bookcloth.

Jim Koss: "Three Forks concerns the headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana, which I have visited often. It's a powerful place, but the book actually involves landscape aspects of that region. I was impressed to think that all of those features are living. I made two of these books, the text is identical, the images are similar but unique to each."

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Page last update: 03.17.18


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