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Hunting and Gathering

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Philip Koch, Chestnut Ridge Panorama,  pastel, 9 x 12 inches, 2018
I needed to show someone some of the preparatory work I did for my large painting Chestnut Ridge Panorama below. It was the culmination of a 3 year long exploration. Above is a pastel drawing I made in the later stages to help me figure out what color chords to use in the painting's expanse of sky.

Philip Koch, Chestnut Ridge Panorama, oil on canvas, 36 x 48  inches, 2018

In many ways saying I do "preparatory work" sounds too organized and polite. It doesn't capture the feel of the process. For me the idea for a major new painting starts out innocently enough with at first just a glimmer of an intriguing new idea stealing into my head. I have to look all over for ideas to convert this feeling into a solid, compelling composition. With lots of experimenting, false starts and head scratching the process takes you to a half formed image. Then the work gains momentum,  and finally takes on a sense of urgen…

Edwin Dickinson and Friends at Philadelphia Museum of Art

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Edwin Dickinson, Interior, oil on beaverboard, 1916, Philadelphia Museum of Art

The tantalizing composition above challenges us to try to explain what's going on in this pile of figures. Exceptionally odd as it is it's so well painted it's compelling. It's one of the oils by Edwin Dickinson that has recently entered the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
This week we drove up from Baltimore to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To mark the gift the museum recently received of six oils by the painter Edwin Dickinson (American 1891-1978) Kathleen Foster, the museum's Senior Curator of American Art, organized Between Nature and Abstraction: Edwin Dickinson and Friends. The show pairs Dickinson's work with that of artists whose work and time intersect Dickinson's. The exhibition concludes Feb. 10, 2019- if you hurry you can see it.
Edwin Dickinson, Self Portrait, oil on canvas, 1940 Philadelphia Museum of Art
The show's title phrase Between Nature and…

Present to Past: Threads of Continuity at Delaware Art Museum

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Fran├žoise Barnes, Misumena Ellipsoides, quilted cotton blend, silk, and polyester batting, 1988, Delaware Art Museum

I was at Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington last Thursday. I've had a personal rule when visiting a museum that I have to look at the older art first.
The whole drive up from Baltimore was through a punishing driving rain. Maybe some brashly colorful art would shake that chill out of my bones. So breaking with tradition my first stop was the contemporary gallery. I saw that Contemporary Curator Margaret Winslow had rearranged the gallery since my last visit, which makes everything look fresh. 
What caught my eye was the fabric wall hanging above. Though I'm known as a landscape painter, my first years as an artist I worked abstractly and still have a fondness for bold abstracted forms. This ambitious piece by Francoise Barnes was visually rich and elegant. She overlapped a network of bright colored shapes on a background of subtle grayed-down forms. It formed a ver…

Allen Art Museum, Frank Stella and the Great Tree of Art

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Frank Stella, Chocurua, acrylic on canvas, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Working in my studio this morning on a new large canvas that's based on the small oil painting below, I was blocking in the main shapes. This is the stage before I start adding any details. Three major trees dominate the composition. Bringing out a different personality for each one calls for rearranging the patterns of their branches. As the new painting is much larger some additional invention is needed.

Philip Koch, Uncharted, oil on panel, 7 1/2 x 10 inches, 2015



Detail from Philip Koch's in-progress 36 x 48 inch canvas

As I worked my mind drifted back to my earliest days as a painter studying at Oberlin College in the late 1960's. At the time I was enraptured by the exuberance of the sharply contrasting flat shapes used by the artist Frank Stella. They inspired my first paintings.  Looking back Stella cemented the idea of how expressive simple flat silhouettes can be. To this day that m…

Winslow Homer at the Brandywine River Museum of Art

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Winslow Homer, Eight Bells, oil on canvas, 1886, Addison  Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA

Right before Christmas my wife Alice and I drove up from Baltimore to the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, PA to see their exhibition Winslow Homer: Photography and the Art of Painting. Organized by the Bowdoin College Museum of Art Co-Director Frank H. Goodyear and Dana Byrd, an art history professor at Bowdoin, the show runs through Feb. 14, 2019. Included in the show is a camera that had belonged to Homer. It's a treat to see this artifact from another time- it's partly made of wood!
Along with photos Homer had taken, the curators pulled together  a stunning group of Homer oils from several museums. 
Homer was incredibly sensitive to the design of his paintings. Here's an example:

His two mariners work together to squeeze the empty space between them into an expressive shape of its own. Though they're both dressed in the same foul weather gear Homer creates two …

Two Paintings Many Meanings

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I was moving paintings around my studio last week and temporarily leaned one of my landscapes against another. Something about how the two oils looked together struck me so I let them remain that way for awhile. Accidentally the two canvases had fallen into a conversation. The very different spaces in these paintings seemed to suggest very different states of mind. One used the panoramic view to talk of a wide open expansiveness. The other of a purposely narrowed-down focus on feelings more intimate and personal.
Edward Hopper famously said "If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint." As elastic as our spoken languages are, I'm convinced much or even most of our experience lies just beyond the grasp of words. The two large oils of mine in the photo above juxtapose two very different  parts of our inner experience. 


Philip Koch, Chestnut Ridge Panorama, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, 2018
Sometimes our thoughts and feelings seem to race out away from us…

Talking about Hopper & Burchfield- Delaware Art Museum

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Edward Hopper (1882-1967), New York, New Haven, and Hartford,  oil on canvas, 1931, Indianapolis Museum of Art
The other week I flew out to Indianapolis on my way to Terre Haute to judge the Swope Art Museum's annual 5 state regional juried exhibition. I paid a visit to the impressive Indianapolis Museum of Art. Wanted to single out one painting in their collection, Edward Hopper's oil New York, New Haven, and Hartford. 



In person the subtlety of Hopper's color mixing is exquisite. My photographs don't come near doing the painting justice. But in these detail shots just above and below Hopper's grasp of how to instill personality into a painting is clear. He depicts a broad-shouldered hillside. Yet against that he conjures up these wildly shaped spindly trees. Their irregular rhythms contrast tellingly against the solemn massiveness of the hillside.  




Hopper's trees live perhaps a more syncopated life than the stately ground from which they spring.
Looking at Hopp…