Fred Ochi uses his giant paint brushes and watercolors to entertain, filing a huge canvas with broad-brushed strokes of color in minutes. Then, with a quick gesture, he prices the piece and advises that someone buy it quickly because “at my age I might die tomorrow,” and the painting will triple in value. But this energetic artist, who loves to tease, does not look like he’s about to give up on life.
Ochi speculates he’s painted at least 10,000 watercolors in his life. He still produces a picture a day, storing them in huge stacks that tower over his head in his downtown Idaho Falls shop. His works tell the story of Idaho from the Tetons to the Hagerman Valley – recording landmark sites and buildings long since torn down, or the red barns that earned him the title of “red barn artist.”
Fred Ochi was born in California and attended art schools there. He came to Idaho in 1942 when his employer at Fox West Coast Theaters moved him first to Salt Lake City then to Idaho to paint movie posters. With these jobs, Ochi escaped the Japanese-American relocation camps during the war. In 1944 he opened his own sign company in Idaho Falls which one of his five sons now runs.
In the early 1950s, Ochi and three other artists began painting together once a week. This association developed into the Idaho Falls Art Guild. With over 50 one-man shows behind him, Fed Ochi laughs at the idea that he retired ten years ago. “I’m a student,” he claims, “because I will always keep learning and learning.” And painting and painting.by Dee Klenck