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Art History Is A Living Thing / Edward Hopper's Studio

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Art history is a living thing that whispers to contemporary artists.
For me as a painter it's a wind that fills my sails, but I get to set the course.

Above is a group of photos I pulled together yesterday to show some the background to my painting Edward Hopper's Kitchen: Open Door,oil on canvas, 40 x 60 inches, 2019 (the bottom image)

In the top row the photo at the left is one I took of the studio bathed in morning sunlight when I stayed there in 2016. Hopper designed his painting studio down to the last nail. It was purposely built at the crest of a sand dune to allow unobstructed views in all directions. According to his wife Jo's journals, while she loved gazing out at Cape Cod Bay to the West, Hopper preferred looking inland over the then sparse rolling dunes.

The middle photo is one my wife Alice took of me with my easel set up in Hopper's small kitchen painting one of the interior views. In order to create the largest possible room for him to paint in Hopper made …

My Honeymoon Painting (36 Years Late).

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Philip Koch, The Dawn, oil on panel, 18 x 36 inches, 2019
This painting was a long time in coming. 
Alice, my soon-to-be wife wanted to honeymoon in Acadia National Park. I’d always been curious so I said “sure.” We got married at the beginning of May 1983 and flew up to Acadia. One morning I let Alice sleep in, and with the first light, crept out to go painting. Driving to a disappointingly fog-covered summit of Cadillac Mountain I thought  “Let me wait  a bit to see if the view will clear.” As if the weather gods were listening within minutes I was treated to the spectacle of the rising sun breaking through the fog. Like the clouds I was blown away.
The Dawn of course, like a honeymoon, is a perfect symbol of new beginnings. I thought someday I must make a painting about this moment.
This painting is going to be included in a curated exhibition Maine: The Painted State at Greenhut Galleries in Portland, ME April 4 - 27, 2019.

Timeless Art? Edward Hopper

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This morning I was sorting through files of my early paintings and came across this one.


Philip Koch, Edward Hopper’s Studio, S. Truro, MA,  oil on paper mounted on panel, 5 ½ x 9 inches, 1997

What Allen Memorial Art Museum's Creepy Little Creature Shows Us

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Peter Paul Rubens,  The Finding of Erichthonius, oil on canvas, 1632, Allen Memorial Art Museum
The temptation is always to run straight towards your goal. Sometimes that works, but often it leaves you wide of the mark, especially in art.
This lesson hit me over the head when I was just starting out as a painter when I was a studio art major at Oberlin College. The school's Allen Memorial Art Museum has the most remarkable and troubling painting by the 17th century artist Rubens, The Finding of Erichthonius from 1632. Despite it having been mysteriously cut down in size years later it's still a powerhouse of a painting. 
At Oberlin I saw it almost daily and I was always a little creeped out by it. Its subject involves the finding of the snake-tailed baby by the three daughters of King Cecrops in a tale from Greek mythology. The story ends badly with the startled daughters driven to madness. I would have preferred to avoid such unpleasantness, but the painting had an odd power to…

Sometimes Art Museums Make Breakthroughs Possible

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Philip Koch,  North of Bloomington, oil on canvas, 16 x 24 inches 1971
Sometimes art museums can make all the difference.

That happened to me in the summer of 1971. I was ending the first year of my MFA Painting program at Indiana University. By making lots of paintings I was growing as an artist. I also felt drawn to  the University's art museum (now called the Eskenazi Museum of Art) and spent considerable time studying its Permanent Collection. 

There were two paintings in particular that jolted me into seeing and thinking about painting differently. Both were seemingly quiet landscapes by Hudson River School painters that had only just entered the Museum's collection. 



Jasper Cropsey, American Harvesting, oil on canvas, 1851 Eskenazi Museum of Art, Bloomington, IN
My earlier years as a beginning painter consisted of me applying flat abstract shapes of color to a surface.  Seeing depth as part of the expression escaped me. I remember distinctly standing before Jasper Cropsey&#…

Edward Hopper and Me on Cape Cod

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Philip Koch, Penniman House, oil, 9 x 12 inches, 2018, Addison Art Gallery, Orleans, MA Edward Hopper made one of his best known landscapes from a house and barn right on Route 6 in Eastham, only a stone's throw from the historic Penniman House in the Fort Hill area. While I painted this on a cloudy day, I remembered the angle  of the sunlight in Hopper's painting Haskell's House seen below.
Addison Art Gallery in Orleans, MA has organized a whole number of exhibitions and events around the legacy the painter Edward Hopper left for contemporary artists on Cape Cod. Helen Addison, the Gallery's owner, is spotlighting the deep connection Hopper had with the unique landscape of the Cape. Much of how we see this unusual place is guided by the dozens of paintings he made there. 


Edward Hopper, Haskell's House, watercolor, 1924. While done in nearby Gloucester, MA, this typical of many of the older homes on Cape Cod. What I find so good about the painting is the way  Hop…

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…