Familiar Face: JD Koth creates enigmatic sculpture for Atlanta BeltLine
By Isadora Pennington
A familiar work of art has become a permanent installation under the Highland Avenue bridge along the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. You may remember iterations of this image in a variety of places throughout the city, including a rock face at Piedmont Park and tucked away in a phone booth in East Atlanta. The sculpture – a face with multiple ascending eyes, mouths, and a temple between its eyes – is the creation of local sculptor JD Koth.
Koth has been an artist for as long as he can remember, though in his early years he was mostly into doodling. Later on, as a teenager, he took up photography, specifically with an interest in abandoned places. This artistic expression was a common theme in his life, but he didn’t take art seriously until he began attending Georgia State University, where he got a BFA in Sculpture.
While still a student, Koth began experimenting with making sculptures out of twigs and sticks behind the Edgewood Sculpture Building. He proposed a concept for the 2011 Art on the BeltLine and was selected to display his “Twisting Passage” sculptures. These creations, both whimsical and otherworldly, caught the eye of a local Disney production, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, for which he was commissioned to create sculptures.
In all, Koth has participated in six Art on the BeltLine events, and one image has emerged time and again in his work: the multi-faceted face. Initially, he wasn’t keen on leaving his name or an author’s mark on his street work, as the mystery is part of the appeal. “People stumble upon it and are like, ‘where did that come from?’” Koth said. The image has some elements that ring familiar, such as the temple similar to those found in Mayan and Incan sites.
The image first occurred to Koth in the midst of a vivid dream. In the vision, he heard a strange sound in the distance and followed it to a futuristic yet ancient temple. Once inside, he saw creatures, all with multiple eyes and mouths, and geometric shapes coming out of their foreheads. In his dream state, Koth began wondering if he himself could also make those noises and morph his face. He awoke, inspired. “I know it’s pretty corny, making sculptures of your dreams, but it just left an impression,” he said.
For the permanent installment on the BeltLine, Koth has made his largest sculpture of the image yet. Tucked away in a corner of the Mammal Gallery, he has been diligently working on the 200-pound sculpture made of fiberglass, marble dust composite and resin for around four months.
He uses these same skills and creative talents in his day job as well, where he works as art and exhibits director for the Malone Design and Fabrication company. There, he fabricates large-scale sculptural installations for a variety of clients, such as the Georgia Aquarium, John Hines Wildlife Refuge, and numerous other wildlife facilities across the country.