The first order of business is to simply find the damn home. Who builds a house in a commercial/industrial zone near an airport?
OK, there it is.
Now open the gate and enter the backyard. Lose yourself.
Take in the 15-foot tall totem poles. Admire the enormous boulders — how did he get them here? The waterfalls, spears, tiki hut.
What is this place?
Yes, it’s the backyard of Roseburg artist Greg Kovach. But you know it’s much more. Another world, really, real and make believe, a pool, a jungle, Disney movies, play time, a daughter’s favorite phrase, a tropical paradise.
Kovach, who barely got through school — “I absolutely hated reading, still do” — turned his passion for doodling into a life.
But his story, like his artwork, is so outlandish, should we even believe it?
Kovach says that as a kid he doodled so much his writing assignments would have more artwork than words. But teachers liked it, and let him slide. That was enough for his parents. “Just pass,” they told him, and he did.
Kovach also says that as a teen he was into BMX and jazzed up his/friends bikes and helmets with art. A mom saw his work and hired him to paint a sign. Get paid to paint? Heck yea!
Kovach admits he totally winged it.
“I had no idea what I was doing” — but soon there is another sign and another and, don’t look now but he is actually making a living painting signs. Go look at the sign above the Kruse Farms fruit stand and you’ll get the idea. The dude can draw.
“Anything that involves art I can do,” he tells you.
He expands to air brush, and business at his The Sign Factory gets so good he builds a house — yea the one near the airport — with a 16-foot high garage so he can bring in semi-trucks to paint.
But this? The dream-like scenes he’s created out of cement, including stuff made to look like wood, making it up as he goes, now found in more than 100 yards and businesses across the Western U.S.?
The basics: Kovach, 48, grew up in Roseburg and graduated from Roseburg High. He’s married to Robin and the couple has two daughters, Ferris and Kya.
Kovach made a good living painting signs, vehicles and anything else people wanted. In his spare time he dabbled, still does. Check out the Ninja Turtle mural on the wall in the spare room.
But he had an itch. More, bigger. Went to Hawaii where he saw some artwork being done with cement, the same kind of stuff he loved on his trips to Disneyland. Something clicked. Time to scratch that itch.
He bought some mortar at the local hardware story and slathered it on a brick fireplace in his house, using a steak knife and a toothbrush. It didn’t last. Kovach and a buddy took a sledgehammer and turned it into rubble.
But Kovach dove into his new obsession, learning all he could about concrete craftmanship. He used his own backyard as his practice canvass, tinkering for years, adding a boulder here, a totem pole there.
“I don’t draw anything out,” he says. “It gives me freedom as an artist.”
You’ve probably seen his work. There’s the welcome boulders at the Lone Pine Pet Resort, Umpqua Community College and the city of Glide. He’s also done dozens of jobs outside of Douglas County, including the Mayan temples he built for Jimboy’s Taco restaurants in California and the waterfall paradise he created in a backyard in Oakland, California late last fall.
Zarek Woodfork watched Kovach do that work firsthand, and still hardly believes what he saw.
Here is how Woodfork tells it: Kovach came down in his camper and lived in the driveway for a month while he worked on the yard. In that time he took two days off, and that was to spend time with his family over Thanksgiving.
He worked 14-hour days, often until his hands were so numb it got difficult to hold his tools. He set up floodlights to work at night and tarps to work during the six days in a row it rained.
“It got to the point where I’m like, ‘Let me put on my jeans and go help him.’ He motivated me and I’m paying for it. I gave him extra because I respect the hustle so much. And when I say I respect the hustle it doesn’t give justice to what he did.”
It’s true Kovach knows something about hustle, drive and discipline. He’s been practicing martial arts for 30 years and playing the drums evern longer. He trains five times a week for obstacle course racing and has competed in the World’s Toughest Mudder competition, a grueling 24-race through mud.
“I wish I knew where his energy came from because I could use some of it myself,” Robin says. “His mind keeps going, he has non-stop energy. Even vacations. There’s no sleeping in on vacations.”
What’s next for Kovach? More of the same; new horizons.
He recently sold The Sign Factory so he can concentrate on his new business, Artistic Concrete Sculpting by Greg Kovach.
He wants to grow it, yet admits he doesn’t spend much time on marketing. He relies on Facebook to get the word out, which is hit-and-miss.
But there is one recent hit that even Kovach marvels at. He got a call from the town council of Paradise, California. The same Paradise that was devastated by fires last year, with nearly 100 people killed and 18,000 homes destroyed.
Someone had seen the welcome boulder he did for Glide. They wanted something similar for Paradise. Kovach is now on a short list of finalists for the project.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” he says.
A massive boulder built by hand with the words WELCOME TO PARADISE across the front, a message meant to help heal a grieving community, created by a guy who hates to read.