Friday, September 19, 2014

More Background on my Upcoming Exhibit at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, MD is holding The Mirror of Nature: The Art of Philip Koch Nov. 8, 2014 - Feb. 22, 2015. It will include some 35 oil paintings, pastels, and vine charcoal drawings spanning the 1980's to today. Here's a second collection of the notes I wrote for some of the wall labels for the paintings that will be in the show (you can read my first posting of these notes here).

Stone City Barns, oil on canvas, 24 x 48”, 1991-2011

Koch’s first solo exhibition at an art museum occurred in 1991 when the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in Iowa invited him to show in their galleries. While there Koch to traveled to nearby Stone City, IA where the famous American Regionalist painter Grant Wood used to conduct a summer painting school. The elegance of the 19th century barns in Stone City charmed Koch into breaking his personal vow “to never paint a red barn.”

Shadows on the House, oil on panel, 9 ¾ x 8 ¾”, 1982.

The earliest painting in the exhibition, this oil reflects Koch’s interest in the work of the American artist Edward Hopper. Famous for his straightforward views of sunlight and long shadows falling on architecture, Hopper’s paintings were the primary impulse behind Koch’s decision early in his career to switch from painting abstractions to working in a realist direction.


From Day to Night, pastel, 7 ½ x 15”, 2002

Koch’s largest paintings are done in his Baltimore studio and are usually based on smaller preparatory works on paper. This pastel helped Koch better understand the color scheme he employed in the large oil of the same title included in this exhibition.

West from Monhegan,  vine charcoal, 9 x 12”, 2006

Despite being the grandson of the inventor of Kodachrome  film, Philip Koch never uses photography to help him make his art. Instead he prefers to work from memory and from charcoal drawings he makes on location. “Art is mostly about what you leave out” explains Koch, “ A slow medium like drawing charcoal affords me more time to discover what a painting needs and what must be discarded.”

 The Easel, Truro Studio, pastel, 6 x 7 ½”, 1998

Over the years Koch has been fortunate to given unprecedented access to the private house that is the former studio of the famous American realist painter Edward Hopper in Truro, MA on Cape Cod. As Hopper was the largest influence on Koch when he was a young artist, the opportunity to stay in work in Hopper’s studio has been deeply inspiring. This is the easel Hopper used to paint in the studio in a pastel drawing Koch made during one of his residencies.

Edward Hopper’s Parlor, Nyack, oil on panel, 10 x 7 ½”, 2012

The Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY, Hopper’s birthplace and boyhood home, invited Koch to come and paint in the rooms where Hopper grew up. This oil was painted in Hopper’s living room with its oversized French doors. The oils Sun in an Empty Room and Sun in an Empty Room: Orange, also included in this exhibition were painted in the 2nd floor room where Hopper was born and that served as his bedroom where he lived until he was nearly 30.

Friday, September 12, 2014

New Interview About Philip Koch's Paintings

Here is a short interview on my paintings that was posted yesterday on the website for Beard's chain of framing stores in the Pacific Northwest (link to the interview on Beard's website)

Interview with Artist 

Philip Koch

At Beard's Framing, we enjoy bringing you information and insight on art. This is the first of a new series of posts, where we conduct interviews with artists to share their knowledge and perspectives on art. This interview is with painter Philip Koch.
Beard's Framing: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Philip Koch: I'm a former abstract painter who early in my career discovered the work of Edward Hopper. That alone inspired me to change to working in a realist direction. Since 1983 I have had unprecedented access to the privately owned Hopper studio on Cape Cod. This Fall I will enjoy my 15th residency staying and working in his studio.
While in my MFA Program in Painting at Indiana University I began painting outdoors in oil, making smaller plein air studies and large studio oil. While my earlier work was more naturalistic, in the last 15 years my paintings have evolved in a more romantic and some say "otherworldly" direction. My paintings are represented in New York by the George Billis Gallery. This Nov. - Feb. the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Maryland will hold a solo exhibition of my work. 14 American art museums have my paintings in their Permanent Collections.
I am a senior professor at MICA in Baltimore.

BF: What made you decide to start a blog? What do you enjoy about the blogging process?
PK: After painting for over 45 years I have learned a great deal about what makes a painting work. I enjoy teaching and sharing my ideas with others. A blog about art is an extension of that.

BF: What are some of your artistic influences?
PK: When I first started out I loved Mark Rothkoís big and simple color paintings and imitated them. Looking back I think that was a great place to begin to study color. After a couple of years Edward Hopper, who I think is the best painter of brilliant sunlight ever, tapped me on the shoulder and inspired me to seriously work on my drawing skills and become a realist painter. For some other heroes I would list Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent (who was a classmate of Hopper in art school) and Hopperís friend Charles Burchfield.
'Magenta, Black, Green on Orange' by Mark Rothko, 'Road in Maine' by Edward Hopper
BF: Looking through your portfolio, you draw a lot of landscapes. Why do you often choose this subject matter?
PK: In most ways I feel a subject matter chooses you, not the other way around. It is less a decision than a feeling. Painting the landscape felt like I was trying on a new pair of shoes that fit perfectly. My landscape work started innocently enough when one of my teachers in grad school suggested I might try painting outside. My first day out on location with my easel I was hooked. If one is going to paint truly well oneís subject matter has to ìclickî with that mysterious side of us where our deepest creativity dwells. I grew up in a remote heavily forested section of the shoreline along Lake Ontario in upstate New York. There werenít many other children around to play with so I spent an enormous amount of time entertaining myself in the woods. It the natural world came to feel like home.

BF: Tell me about one of your works you're particularly proud of.
PK: A new painting I am especially happy with is Uncharted II, now at the Art Essex Gallery in Essex, CT. It was done entirely from memory and invention. As a boy growing up in snow country near Rochester, NY, deep winter snows were frequent and always left a vivid impression on me. A heavy coating of white seems to transform even a neighborhood you know intimately well into something mysterious that beckons you to explore it. I wanted to make a painting about that feeling.

Uncharted II, oil on panel, 18 x 24", 2014
As sort of a side project over the years I have been doing a long running series of paintings of the interior of Hopperís little seen Truro, MA painting studio where he lived and worked with his wife Jo for 6 months of every year for some three decades. Here is a recent painting of the small table where the Hopperís would eat their breakfast:

Truro Studio Kitchen, oil on panel, 12 x 16", 2013
Philip Koch can be found at and on his blog at

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Upcoming Exhibition at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts

I have been getting my upcoming exhibition together that will be at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, MD.  The Mirror of Nature: The Art of Philip Koch runs Nov. 8, 2014 - Feb. 22, 2015. As part of this I've compiled some notes we may use on some of the wall labels for a few of the paintings. Here are a few examples.

The Song of All Days, oil on panel, 36 x 72”, 2008 (the painting above).
Painted just as he was turning 60, Koch thought of this painting as a recollection and celebration of all the times he had spent painting surrounded by nature. He explained “I have the best office in the world.”

Deep Forest Pool, oil on panel, 30 x 40”, 2011
Many of the 19th century farms in the Eastern U.S. have failed, allowing the cleared land to revert to deep forest. Often the only relief from the darkness of their foliage canopy comes from the light that falls on small forest pools like this one. This painting was done entirely from imagination and the memory of the forest pools where Koch played as a boy.

Ascension, oil on panel, 40 x 32”, 2008
Koch’s wife Alice suggested the theme for this painting when she accidentally glimpsed one of Koch landscapes in a mirror. The mirror’s oblique angle turned that painting’s horizontal expanse into a vertical format that suggested a rising up movement instead of the back and forth feeling associated with most panoramas.

The Voyage, oil on canvas, 38 x 38”, 2000.
Philip Koch fell in love with the romantic landscape paintings of the 19th century American artists of the Hudson River School such as Thomas Cole. While the tasks of 21st century landscape painters is different than that of artists 150 years ago, Koch intended this oil partly as homage to Cole's famous series of paintings The Voyage of Life. The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts’ Permanent Collection is particularly rich in this area and includes one of Cole’s oil studies for The Voyage of Life.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Looking Back

Philip Koch, Near the Yale Farm, oil on canvas, 24 x 36, 1992 Private collection.

A project to get my 35mm slides of my earlier paintings scanned and catalogued is underway. As the images come back to me there are a lot of pleasant surprises. More than anything I'm amazed at how many paintings I was producing over all those years. You can see the beginnings of the project on the "Earlier Works" page of my website.

Above is a studio painting I made based on an oil study I painted in Norfolk, CT in the Litchfield Hills. I painted there frequently, staying at the cottage of an old college friend. It's a heavily forested area, but the silvan gloom is wonderfully punctuated by the stands of white birch. And rows of delicately pristine ferns line all the back roads. My focus in painting this was inventing a rhythm of highlights and shadows that would organize the incredibly crowded forest into a deep space that beckons the view to enter in.

Philip Koch, Farm at Craddock Lane, oil on panel, 14 x 21", 1991. Private collection

One of the ways I get ideas for paintings is just driving around and keeping my eyes open. This field far to the northwest of my home in Baltimore caught my eye late in the summer of because of the gorgeous yellow ochres of the crop. (The farmer came out to see what I was doing once I had my French easel set up, which was great because I wanted to know what his beautifully-hued crop was.  It's rye). 

Late summer days in the Midatlantic are often hazy, and that was in full effect, making the far distant planes recede into cooler grays. I was also fortunate that the crop was being harvested, providing my foreground field with the arc-shaped paths of the harvesting tractor at the left. Always the challenge when painting natural forms is to discover the hidden geometry underlying the foliage and grasses. In this case a John Deere tractor was a huge help.

Philip Koch, Cape Cod Morning, oil on canvas, 36 x 54", 1994, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, IA

There's a funny story attached to this painting. It's a view of a house   just off Rte. 6 on Cape Cod in Wellfleet. Rte. 6 is now a four lane road that runs up the spine of the Cape and is heavily traveled in the summer. I had been spying this scene as a source for several years and finally decided to tackle it. Trouble was when I scouted out locations to set up my French easel, the shoulders of the road were so low that the bottom section of the yellow house was obscured. And it was the all those yellows that I was after. 

I finally decided to set up on a four foot wide traffic island in the middle of the four lanes of traffic. The view was great, but the setting in the morning rush hour (yes, even Cape Cod has rush hour) was next to unnerving. I spent 3 or 4 mornings precariously camped out like this getting disbelieving stares from a lot of motorists.  It wasn't without some humor though. On the last day I worked on the piece a guy in an old pick up rolled down his window and yelled out "needs more green." I actually stepped back and considered his advice for a moment before deciding I liked my interpretation better.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Drawing: A Shared Compass Between Me and Charles Burchfield

Philip Koch, The Birches of Maine, vine charcoal, 12 x 9", 2006

It makes sense to have heroes, to enjoy the work of great artists, study it, even become best friends with it. One of the painters I have learned the most from is Charles Burchfield. I grew up in Burchfield country (Western New York State) and always felt a special kinship with his nature paintings. We both work left handed, (few people realize how big a factor that is in giving a drawing or painting its distinctive personality).

I was recently discussing with a friend why I choose to make charcoal drawings in such great numbers considering I am primarily an oil painter. Musing on this I began comparing my practice to that of Burchfield, who also made countless drawings. If you go to Burchfield Penny Art Center's online pages of Burchfield's drawings  they have 1408 of them posted! 

Much as I love Burchfield's work, I don't draw or paint the way he did. Yet I feel in his work a hint of some hard-to-define energy that I sense in the landscape. That he could convey this so expressively is an incredible achievement. Given that my personality is very different than his, I have to come at that mysterious energy of nature from a different direction. Yet looking at his work, despite how different it is from my own, gives me an extra push as I work my way down my path.

Above is a drawing I began as I was starting to dream up a new composition. It's in vine charcoal, a medium prized for how easy it is to smear it and for being easy to erase. My drawings begin by moving the dry black charcoal dust this way and that until an image begins to form that excites my eye. 

You have to coax the idea into being. Flexible vine charcoal for me works better than anything else to grab a hold of the new idea when it's still fleeting and tentative and make something solid and substantial out of it.

Here below is the large oil on canvas I painted from the idea I first worked out in the drawing.

Philip Koch, The Birches of Maine, oil on canvas, 55 x 44" 
private collection

Below is one of several preparatory drawings Burchfield made for his major watercolor that follows.

Charles Burchfield, Study for the White Wings of September, conte, 11 x 17", 1960, gift of the Burchfield Foundation to the Burchfield Penny Art Center.

He didn't work in vine charcoal as I do, instead preferring to draw with more linear media like conte crayons or charcoal pencils. And he tended to do far more quick drawings on the same theme until the idea would crystallize in his mind.

Charles Burchfield, White Wings of September,  watercolor, 47 5/8 x 53 1/4", 1960 -66, 
San Diego Museum of Art

Here's the preparatory drawing I made for one of my most visionary compositions. In the back of my mind I imagined that if any of us could sail like this bird over the events of our lives what an amazing spectacle would unfold before us. This was the first of several drawings I made, each one becoming gradually more clearly defined as I zeroed in on my concept.

Philip Koch, Equinox, vine charcoal, 8 x 12", 2008

Here's the final oil version.

Philip Koch, Equinox, oil on panel, 30 x 45", 2008

This is one of the sketches Burchfield made around the theme of a turbulent stormy sky with rays of sun breaking through a crack in the clouds. You can sense him feeling his way forward, trying to find the shapes and points of emphasis he would need to bring his idea to life.

Charles Burchfield, Sketch for December Storm #4, conte, 13 x 19 1/2", circa 1941,
Burchfield Penny Art Center, gift of the artist

Here's his final version in his large watercolor.

Charles Burchfield, December Storm,  watercolor, 40 1/2 x 56", 1941-1960