Seventeen-year-old artist AJ Kochuba, who splits his time between family homes in Sunset Beach and Raleigh, has a strong artistic voice and a clear vision for his future.
If truth be told, there probably are not many adults who possess the level of self-awareness that 17-year-old Andrew Joseph “AJ” Kochuba already has.
This talented artist and academically gifted student already has an impressive artist’s curriculum vitae that includes creating a permanent installation for his school, designing logos and t-shirts, organizing charity art events, painting commission pieces, donating art to charities like Amnesty International and leading school events like Art Farm and an outreach program that promotes the arts to underfunded area schools. Though he may be young, Kochuba is not a novelty and hopes that people don’t “limit me to being just a teen and consider my work for my talent rather than my young age,” he says.
Kochuba and his family — dad Joe, mom Angela, 23-year-old brother Joey and 14-year-old sister Chloe — split their time between homes in Sunset Beach and Raleigh, where Kochuba attends Raleigh Charter High School. He is both self-taught and has taken multiple classes from local artists Ginny Lassiter and Ruth Cox and from Beth Reece and Paul McCormick, to name a few. Kochuba is also an avid student of YouTube painting video tutorials.
Though he has been drawing since he as a child, carrying sketchbooks, notepads and pencils wherever he goes, Kochuba’s passion for art exploded in middle school, when in the sixth grade he was placed in a semester-long art class.
“In that class, I realized just how much I am fascinated by visual art,” Kochuba says. “I grew quickly as an artist and soon realized how much more serious about art I was than the other kids.” He continued with those classes the following year, and as he entered eighth grade, he was invited to register for an experimental, year-long art program in which he flourished.
The lone artist in his immediate family, Kochuba enjoys their unwavering support. They encourage his passion for art with classes, taking trips to art museums and visiting art supply stores for paints and other materials.
“My mom has a fantastic eye for design and artwork,” he says. “She attended college-level art classes when she was in elementary school, but her parents stopped supporting her dream to be an artist when she went to college. My mom often says she works hard in her business career to support my dreams since she didn’t have the opportunity.”
Art is something his family values, and they continue to nurture his talent. That talent is undeniable. Whether Kochuba is painting a portrait, a landscape or another subject, he invests his heart, mind and soul in each piece. A self-described perfectionist, he feels committed to create something amazing each time he puts brush to canvas.
“Overall, the key to my paintings is lots of layers, complementing colors, control over textures and manipulation of brush strokes,” Kochuba says. He wants his art to evoke an emotional response and elicit a call to action for the viewer.
Painting is Kochuba’s favorite medium, and he switches between acrylic and oils equally. It is the diversity and flexibility of painting and the feeling that he can do almost anything with paint, whether a meticulous or expressive style, that is so important to him.
“I am still exploring and finding myself and my place in the world, so I know that I can adapt the medium to my needs,” he says.
He also enjoys experimenting with various forms, styles and workflows including drawing with graphite, charcoal, ink, pastels and colored pencils as well as linoleum block printing and embroidery. Recently, he has developed an interest in graphic art and has designed logos and posters for school clubs and companies.
Kochuba often uses his art to bring a voice to causes he believes in. In his ink and acrylic piece, “Lost Flock,” he depicts the heroes of school mass shootings. In “Inner Dialogue,” he explores the dark isolation of suicidal thoughts and depression that teens his age silently suffer. In the permanent installation he created for his high school, he brought awareness to the damage and destruction that plastics can do to the oceans and beaches.
As important as art is to Kochuba, he does have another love: science, specifically biology. He is also very strong in math, but not particularly fascinated by it. His academic goal is to double major in art and biology for a future career in medicine. He learned though Duke University’s Talent Identification Program that he has the same passion toward medicine as he does art. He considered applying to Ivy League schools, but his heart is in North Carolina. His dream school is Duke University. “Fingers crossed I’m admitted,” he says. He plans to fund some of his college education with sales of his art.
A career in medicine will not mean that Kochuba gives up art. He has some prominent mentors — Tim Roda, Bill Thelen and Brenon Day — who encourage him to continuously grow and think about what type of artist he wants to be in the future.
“I have listened to many people in the medical field speak at panels, and most encourage having a strong hobby that I’m really invested in outside of medicine to take my mind off the trauma and stress,” Kochuba says.
No matter what the future holds for Kochuba, he would like to continue to develop his voice through his artwork.
“I’d like to see my art become an inspiration for others,” he says. “I hope to seriously consider entering national and international art shows. Even if I’m not admitted to the show, I know I’ll learn from others who are.”