Friday, February 24, 2017

Swope Art Museum Permanent Collection Part 1

Having visited the Swope Art Museum several times before, I knew that it had a remarkable Permanent Collection. We traveled there earlier this month for the opening reception for their current exhibition of my own paintings. Naturally we wanted to see the work in their Collection as well. Above is my wife Alice standing next to Swope's Thomas Hart Benton painting Threshing Wheat from 1938-39. The tractor's smoke and the clouds in the painting seem to move of course,  but in Benton's lively imagination his piles of wheat and the distant hills pulsate as well.

Art can transport us to a different place or into a different mood. A real gem in Swope's Collection is Grant Woods', Spring in Town, oil, 1941. 

While painted in the threatening early years of WWII, it exudes a quiet optimism as we watch the figure preparing the ground for planting.  The garden's freshly turned earth is magically dark and fertile looking. I want to take my shoes off and feel that dirt between my toes. Apparently this was Grant Woods' last painting. It seems to me to be a great note to go out on...

The exhibition of my own paintings at the Swope focuses on the work I made during my 16 residencies in Edward Hopper's Truro, MA studio. However I have also fallen in love with the work of one of the reclusive Hopper's few friends, the watercolorist Charles Burchfield. Though Hopper and Burchfield painted in dramatically different ways they each had a profound respect for each other's work.

Here I am with the Swope's large Burchfield watercolor Old Houses in Winter. Burchfield loved to tinker with his painting in his studio. He worked on this one from 1929 - 1941. 

These last two years I have been the Artist in Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY (BPAC). It has the voluminous 25,000 piece Burchfield Archives. Happily I was given access to study hundreds of Burchfield's working drawings that are rarely seen. Here's one that I photographed in the Archives that is huge. Burchfield joined together several sheets of paper to allow him to work at the 4 to 5 foot wide scale often used in his major watercolors. While not identical to the subject of Swope's Burchfield, this drawing shows a very similar cluster of run-down old buildings. 

BPAC's drawing reveals Burchfield's art was a complicated affair- it could be wildly fanciful or even darkly moody. But he had a craftsman-like side that often liked to plan out his ideas ahead of time as he was doing here. 

Nancy Weekly, the Curator of the Burchfield Collection at BPAC, told me she feels Burchfield's freshness of execution often came from the way he would "rehearse" the strokes he wanted his brush to make on separate sheets of paper. I wonder if the drawing I photographed above wasn't part of the preparation for the Swope's Old Houses in Winter.

In a few days I'll show some more favorites from the Swope's Collection in a new blog post.

Swope's show of my own work continues through March 25, 2017.
Hope many of you can get to visit the Swope and see it and their Collection in person.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Swope Art Museum Exhibition Part II

This is me last week in Terre Haute, Indiana grinning next to Swope Art Museum's famous Hopper oil, Route 6, Eastham from 1941. 

Here are some more images of Swope's current exhibition Light and Shadow: Paintings and Drawing by Philip Koch from Edward Hopper's Studio (through March 25, 2017). Susan Baley, Swope's Director, conceived of the show to connect some contemporary art with some of the key artworks from the founding collection when the Swope opened to the public 75 years ago. 

Here's the signage at the entrance to the three galleries the Museum has devoted to my work.

In one of the two larger galleries, a  panorama of three of my large landscape oils- left: After the Storm III, 45 x 90 inches, 1986, middle: Horizon, 40 x 60 inches, 2016, right: Down to the Bay, 36 x 72 inches, 2008. The lighting on these paintings in the gallery was just perfect to show their colors.

Below: In the other large gallery- left: Truro Studio Kitchen, oil, 40 x 30 inches, 2016, middle: Edward Hopper's Truro Studio Kitchen, vine charcoal, 8 x 10 inches, 2012, right: Edward Hopper's Truro Studio Kitchen: Open Door, oil, 40 x 60 inches, 2016.

A detail of the middle drawing- this is where Hopper and his wife Jo ate their breakfast.

Another view:

Below: In the opposite corner of the same gallery, two views of Hopper's bedroom. At right: Truro Studio: Two Rooms, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, 2016. At left an earlier drawing of the same bedroom closet, Hopper Bedroom III, vine charcoal, 7 x 14 inches, 2012.

Here's a close up of the small drawing in the distance in the photo above, Hopper Bedroom III. It has been an incredible help to me to be able to observe the studio's interior at all times of day over the course of years. Making drawings served as preparation to tackling this closet in oil at a large scale. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Swope Art Museum Exhibition Part 1

Left: Philip Koch's Morning at the Route 6, Eastham House,
oil on canvas, 30 x 60 inches, 2016. Right: Edward Hopper.
Route 6, Eastham, oil on canvas, 1941. 

The above photo was taken last weekend in one of the three galleries Swope Art Museum has devoted to their new show of my paintings done during my residencies in Edward Hopper's Truro, MA studio. Hopper was the big influence on me when I was a young artist. Naturally it is a deep honor to have my work hanging next to that of the man who was my greatest teacher.  

The Friday evening opening for the show was probably the largest turnout I've ever had for one of my exhibitions. Swope Museum did a wonderful job installing and lighting the work. 

There must have been ten people, none of them known to me, who came up to me the during the reception to say they saw the common thread that runs through Hopper's art and my own, but that they liked how my paintings had a different handling and feeling to them. It was a very sweet experience for me. 

Swope Museum's Director Susan Baley with 
Hopper's Route 6, Eastham

Swope has a stellar collection of American realist paintings from the first half of the 20th century. Most prominent of them is  Hopper's Route 6, Eastham. All three of the works I made working from the same house and barn Hopper chose are together in the exhibition. 

I knew from the start I wanted to depict the house and barn in a different mood than Hopper's interpretation. Where he chose a late afternoon light for his oil, I purposely arrived early in the morning to see the structures in bright morning sun.

Philip Koch, Morning at the Route 6, Eastham
House, vine charcoal, 7 x 14 inches, 2016

Below are four small vine charcoal drawings that I made first to help me sift through the possibilities. I found it was the upper story of the buildings that felt most expressive so I chose to concentrate my attention there. The drawing above is the final result and it is included in the exhibit.

From that charcoal drawing I made this small oil on panel as a first step in discovering the color chords for my final large canvas.

Philip Koch, Morning at the Route 6, Eastham
House, oil on panel, 12 x 24 inches, 2016.

Here I am with the final canvas.

I will be showing more of the paintings in the exhibition in an upcoming blog post in several days. Here's a view of some of the work in the Museum's Haslem Gallery, one of the other two large spaces where the work is installed.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Best Cat Painting Ever- John Sloan's oil Green's Cats at Delaware Art Museum

John Sloan (American, 1871- 1951), Green's Cats, oil, 1900,
 Delaware Art Museum

Earlier this week my wife Alice and I stopped in at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.  As always happens when I visit there my eye was caught by one of the Museum's early oils by the famous Ashcan School painter John Sloan, Green's Cats.  

Remarkable for its liveliness, the painting just nails the inimitable personality of felines. Quite an accomplishment when you consider it's almost completely devoid of any details.  Sloan has chosen a view where the cats have turned away, hiding from us their distinctive eyes and whiskers. Typical of cats, they seem oblivious to our presence. 

To learn a painting's secrets I often like to turn it upside down.  It helps one see just how Sloan arranged his painting to make it express its "cat-ness" so powerfully.  For starters, Sloan expanded the scale of the two cats to completely fill his canvas. There's no question that they, rather than the room, are the main story.  

Sloan places his furry models so there's only a tiny bit of empty space in between them. While that space is technically empty the cats' bodies squeeze it into a distinctive shape. This negative shape, as artists would call it, knits the two cats together, hinting that the two felines have worked out their own special relationship.

The black cat's body is painted in as an almost completely flat shape. But Sloan invests energy and personality into the cat by giving its outer silhouette is a surprisingly expressive collection of unexpected shapes. I love the way the black diamond shapes in the floor tiles dance around the black cat's body. Notice how they almost look like the shapes of the cat's ears and paws. 

Sloan's painting is so satisfying because he builds such a convincing space around his cats. They seem perfectly at home in this intimate world he's created.

Heather Campbell Coyle, Delaware Art Museum's Chief Curator and Curator of American Art , is putting together the first big survey of Sloan's art since 1988.  An American Journey: The Art of John Sloan will run at the Museum October 21, 2017 - January 28, 2018. It should be a lot of fun to see. I'm sure the cats are hoping to be included.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Getting Creative- Rooms by the Sea from the Hopper Studio

Edward Hopper, Rooms by the Sea, oil on canvas, Yale 
University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

The first painting I ever paid attention to as a teenager was Edward Hopper's Rooms by the Sea. It was reproduced in a issue of Time magazine that I saw when I was about 15. Like a normal teenager I paid little mind to fine art. But the painting with its mysterious contrast of a door opening right into the sea stopped me in my tracks. I remember thinking "Now that's a painting!" 

In 1983 I had the good fortune to become friends with the owners of the studio in Truro, MA where Hopper made this painting. I began a long series of residencies in the studio and started my ongoing series of oil paintings of its interior. Here's the corner of his studio that inspired Hopper's Rooms by the Sea.

Hopper was a master at rearrangement. He moved the door from the left side the doorway to the right and lengthened the empty white wall. Most critically he moved the sun to shine directly on a wall that in real life faces north and is always in shadow. By changing the lighting he made his composition spring to life.

Here's one of his preparatory drawings where he is figuring out how to create a convincing new lighting situation.

Edward Hopper, preparatory drawing for Rooms by the Sea,
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Over the years I had done a number of paintings and drawings of this corner of the studio but I had always stayed true to the shadowed lighting that surrounds the wall and door.

In my newest painting Rooms by the Sea: September that I began in the Truro studio during my most recent stay there last Fall I decided to try inventing a new light direction of my own. Here streaks of an imagined early morning sunlight cascade over the wall and door. I'm very happy with how my little bit of fantasy turned out.

This painting, along with 33 others, will be included in the exhibition Light and Shadow: Paintings and Drawings by Philip Koch from Edward Hopper's Studio at Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, IN February 3 - March 25, 2017. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Long Time Coming...Painting a New Oil for my Swope Art Museum Show

Philip Koch, Truro Studio: Two Rooms, oil on canvas, 36 x 48"

My brush strokes are always in a hurry. When I paint my hand is doing more slashing and scrubbing than smoothing things down and polishing surfaces. One might get the idea my paintings happen  quickly. Ironically they don't. Rather I take months to sort through the colors to get them just the way I want them. Sometimes I need to build up my knowledge of a source for years before attempting a major painting.

Above is one of my new oils. It shows Hopper's bedroom in the studio he designed and had built for himself in Truro, MA in 1934. At the left is one of the windows overlooking Cape Cod Bay, and through the door at the right stands his easel where he painted dozens of his world famous masterpieces. 

My painting will make its debut Feb. 3, 2017 in Terre Haute, Indiana at Swope Art Museum's exhibition Light and Shadow: Paintings and Drawings by Philip Koch from the Edward Hopper Studio. It's based on smaller drawings and paintings I made with my French easel squeezed in between the two single beds in the small room. This last Fall I had my 16th residency staying and working in the studio. It's an honor, but it's also an exceptional chance to feel that earlier artist's presence.

Philip Koch, Truro Bedroom Door, vine charcoal, 
13 x 6 1/2", 2006 This was the first time I used
these bedroom doors as a subject

Over that time I have become increasingly intrigued by the bedroom's closet doors. They're the only two clothes closets in the house. You realize the Hopper's had few clothes as the closets are tiny by today's standards. It's hard not to imaging the hundreds of times Hopper and his wife Jo turned the odd black metal doorknobs to reach for a sweater. 

Each door has been repainted many times- enough so that they no longer shut easily. Mostly they stand ajar, open a few inches unless you make a determined effort to close them. The way the Cape light plays over these doors seems to me delicate, intricate and almost impossibly beautiful.

Philip Koch, Hopper Bedroom III, vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2012

In all I've made at least half dozen works of these doors. With each of them I was coming to know this corner of this historic room more deeply. In my new painting I feel the traces of each of those earlier drawings and paintings. 

Here's a photo my wife Alice took of me two weeks ago in my Baltimore studio finishing up Truro Studio: Two Rooms. 

In addition to this painting both of the above charcoal drawings will be hanging in the Swope's galleries along with 31 additional pieces. There will be a free public reception of the exhibition on Friday, Feb. 3 from 6 - 9 p.m. All welcome! The exhibition continues through March 25, 2017.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Preparing for my Exhibition at Swope Art Museum

Above is the 12 x 24" oil I painted from drawings I made on location at the house that Edward Hopper worked from for his famous oil Route 6, Eastham. Hopper made his painting based on drawings he made on the side of the road. Route 6, Eastham is the keystone of the Swope Art Museum's Permanent Collection and is one of Hopper's best known paintings.

The Swope invited me to show my paintings that I've made of the interior of Hopper's Truro, MA studio during my residencies there and of the surrounding area in a show they are organizing, Light and Shadow: Paintings and Drawings by Philip Koch from the Edward Hopper Studio. The show will open Feb. 3 and run through March 25, 2017 in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Here below is a view of my studio today with the new in-progress 60" wide version of my smaller oil well underway. Should be fun to see this hanging when it's completed in the same galleries in the Swope Museum with Hopper's famous oil.