Philip Koch, Monhegan Dawn: Ochre, oil on panel
6 1/2 x 13", 2015
On Friday, March 6 I'm giving a gallery talk in Nyack, NY about the work in the Edward Hopper House Art Center's current exhibition Philip Koch: Landscapes and Hopper Interiors. Naturally I've been mulling over what I want to say. The talk's at 7:00 and is free to the public.
The show is taking place in the house where Hopper was born and grew up. It's situated on a rise one block above the open sweep of the Hudson River, something that played a huge role in his youthful imagination. Years later he would build a studio for himself atop an 80' sand dune overlooking the waters of Cape Cod Bay in Truro, MA. And if one visits that studio that Hopper himself designed down to the last nail, one can't help but be struck by how similar it is in feeling to his Nyack home. That's no accident.
Philip Koch, Sun in an Empty Room, vine charcoal,
9 x 12", 2012
Hopper put enormous stock in the most vivid of his childhood memories- images so strongly etched into his mind that they weren't eroded away by the passing decades. Chief among them was his delight at seeing sunlight streaming through his bedroom windows and playing its patterns across the walls and planks of its floor.
From the home itself, to the rooftops of the houses running down to the Hudson River, one finds all the essential elements that would appear and re-appear in Hopper's paintings.
Philip Koch, Edward Hopper's Truro Studio Kitchen II
oil on panel, 10 x 7 1/2", 2014
Philip Koch, Yellow Arcadia, oil on panel,
30 x 40, 2006
I grew up in a home my parents built on a hill overlooking the shore of Lake Ontario, just outside of Rochester, NY. Then the area was mostly unsettled and I would play with the handful of other children there along the shore and on its the densely forested hills.
As a teenager I longed to grow up and leave the area, and once I turned 18 I went off to college and never lived there again.
But a funny thing happened. I started dreaming about the old neighborhood's rocky shore and the crazy patterns of sunlight filtering through the forest's canopy. These images came unbidden, marching back into my consciousness. And they gradually came to feel like old friends returning. For a few years I struggled with the disconnect between the art I was making and the these old images that were populating my mind. Finally I realized I should put them to use.
Philip Koch, Deer Isle, oil on panel, 36 x 72", 2009
One of the oils that most closely resembles what the shore by my childhood home looked like is this painting above, Deer Isle, which was painted in Maine. That's probably why I made it.
Artists, when they've done powerful work, are teaching us lessons.
One of them surely is to slow down and take a second look at ones immediate surroundings. Much of what is around you at any given moment is forgettable. But alongside of those are a few fragments that mysteriously insert themselves into your memory. You find yourself carrying with you the feeling of the corner of your old bedroom or the way the shadows moved in late afternoons across your backyard. This is a good thing. This is some extra new vocabulary you will use for the rest of your life to describe yourself to yourself.