Saturday, September 17, 2016

My Upcoming Showing and Talk at Highland House Museum in Truro Sept. 24, 2016


This is Edward Hopper's 1930 watercolor of the Highland Light in North Truro, MA on Cape Cod. The painting is a masterpiece on a lot of levels. One thing I particularly love is how Hopper created a real drama of colors between his pale buildings and sky contrasting so sharply against the deep yellow ochres of his sun-drenched grasses. Hopper deftly included the sandy road in his foreground to break up what would have been a visually too empty field. By adding a note of less intense color in the bottom half of his painting he helps connect his foreground with the the painting's more pearly top half.

I'll be including a slide of this watercolor of Highland Light in the slide talk I am putting together for my event sponsored by Addison Art Gallery and the Truro Historical Society on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at the Highland House Museum in Truro. There will be a showing of six of the oil paintings I've made during my 16 residencies in Hopper's former studio in Truro. 

We will have a reception at 5:30 p.m. and the talk and discussion from 6:00 to 7:00. All welcome!



Hopper designed his studio himself down to the last nail and had it constructed in 1934. In it he would paint dozens of the canvases that have made him the world famous painter he is today.




The studio shares with his paintings a sort of straightforward and unassuming charm. Above is the studio's kitchen with the table where Hopper and his wife Jo would eat their breakfast. Below is a photo my wife Alice took of me walking back up the long winding path that leads from the shore of Cape Cod Bay up to the studio. In the distance is the studio with its iconic 10' tall north-facing window.



I have been studying the Hopper studio since I first went to stay there in 1983 In its way it offers clues to how Hopper's creative vision worked. While I am primarily a landscape painter I have undertaken a years long project of making paintings of the historic studio's interior. 

Below is one of my paintings that will be in the showing Sept. 24 at Highland House Museum Edward Hopper's Painting Room, oil on panel, 20 x 16", 2016. I painted it set up in the studio's small kitchen looking into Hopper's painting room. That's his easel in the distance on the left.




Let's end with one of my earliest oils of the studio's interior that's long since gone to a private collector, Rooms by the Sea, oil on canvas, 42 x 63". It was painted in the studio's painting room, with the doorway to the left opening to the studio's bedroom and the door to the right leading out to the bluff overlooking Cape Cod Bay.



Monday, September 5, 2016

Paintings from my Burchfield Residency


Philip Koch, Upper Story: Sunlight, oil on panel, 
12 x 24", 2016. I painted this from the building in
downtown Buffalo that Burchfield used as the center-
piece of perhaps his most famous watercolor, Rainy Night.

Here are ten of my oil paintings that I've finished so far from my time as the Artist in Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY. Most of them will be in the show I'm having opening at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth, ME on Oct. 1st. The oils were begun at different times over 2015-2016 when I was making repeated trips to Buffalo, to work at Burchfield Penney and in areas where the painter Charles Burchfield went to paint his landscapes. 

One of the things that most struck me on the Residency about Burchfield  was how often he would take great lengths of time to complete his paintings. Sometimes the evidence was in the numerous preparatory drawings he would execute to help him with his major paintings. Other times the dates on individual paintings would stretch over decades as he would go back into pieces to improve and expand them. 




Philip Koch, Great Lake, oil on panel, 6  x10", 2016.
I grew up on the shore of Lake Ontario in Rochester, NY, 
near Buffalo. This view of distant Lake Erie from Chestnut 
Ridge Park south of Buffalo stirred my boyhood memories.


One of the ironies of my paintings is that their freely flowing brushstokes suggest they're rapidly executed. I am just the opposite sort of painter. I take all the time I need and slowly craft my vision for each of my paintings. In a way a painter is like a storyteller who needs to first tell the tale to himself- step by step discovering just what the space, light, and mood need to be to tell a compelling story.




Philip Koch, East Aurora Barns, oil on panel, 15 x 20",
2016. East Aurora was a favorite painting location
for Burchfield. I did a lot of my outdoor painting 
there as well.



My wife Alice insists I'm an impatient person (and perhaps she has a point). The lesson the Burchfield Residency reinforced for me is that it's ok to let paintings grow at their own pace. We get our good ideas only once they occur to us. If that takes weeks, or months or years, matters less than bringing the final painting to the highest level possible. 



Phlip Koch, Split-rail Fence, oil on panel, 14x 21"
2016. This is a close up view I painted of the fence
depicted in the painting above East Aurora Barns.


I read a lot from Burchfield's journals during the Residency. Frequently he describes wandering around until something stuck him  as especially ripe with possibilities for making a painting. I followed that method and put a lot of miles on my car.  If you keep looking long enough, I find you stumble into the most remarkable sources. 




Philip Koch, Soft Ochre Forest, oil on panel, 16 x 12"
2016. During my Residency I spent most of my time
outdoors exploring the hills south of Buffalo. I used this 
simple stand of trees in this painting and in the following 
oil to make very different statements of mood and
movement.


Philip Koch, Wind Through the Trees, oil
on panel, 16 x 12", 2016.




Philip Koch, Erie Canal, oil on panel, 12 x 9"
2016. I made a vine charcoal drawing with 
my easel set up on the banks of what was the
Erie Canal (now the much less eleganltly named
Barge Canal). Back in my studio I imagined
the scene bathed in a warm morning light.




Philip Koch, Edge of the Forest, oil on panel, 12 x 9", 
2016. In the hills south of Buffalo you can let the moods
of the forest sweep over you. The cool colors of these
tree trunks were a perfect counterpoint to the warm 
siennas of the leaves.




Philip Koch, Hills, Colden, NY, oil on panel, 7 x 10 1/2", 2016.
As a teenager I used to travel to Colden to ski at the Kissing
Bridge ski area. That memory was in the back of my
mind as I painted this some of the adjoining hills.




Philip Koch, Charles Burchfield's Salem Home, oil on panel,
12 x 24", 2016. This painting was made from a charcoal drawing
I did on location in the backyard of Burchfield's childhood home
in Salem, OH. Though an ordinary house and neighborhood it
served to inspire dozens of that artist's finest early works.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three New paintings: Hopper, Maine & Burchfield



Philip Koch, Eward Hopper's Painting Room, 
oil on panel, 20 x 16", 2016

Painting well is a little like developing a green thumb. You can't rush a painting into completion. They reveal themselves to the artist only gradually. All we can do is water and nourish them. Often several paintings will come to completion all around the same time. So it is this week in my studio. Here are three newcomers to the fold.

My painting above was done from some drawings I made during my previous residencies in Edward Hopper's studio in Truro, MA. It is a view looking from the studio's small kitchen down a short hall and opening into Hopper's large painting room. In the distance at the left is the easel Hopper used to paint many of his world famous masterpieces and at right is the dark walnut desk where he and his wife Jo would pay their bills. 

Initially I had centered his easel right in the middle of the painting room but it didn't feel right in that spot. Instead I moved it to the lefthand side to create an empty space between it and the lone white chair. One of Hopper's gifts as a painter was his legendary ability to infuse seemingly empty spaces with a personality. I chose to focus my painting more on the light-filled empty space of this room. It's a slightly wistful reflection on solitude.




Philip Koch, Porcupine Islands, oil on panel, 9 x 12", 2016

This was painted mostly from direct observation in June during a trip to Mt. Desert Island in Maine. It was early in the morning and
I chose a vantage point half way up Cadillac Mountain overlooking the Porcupine Islands. As I worked a dark bank of clouds was pushing its way insistently into what had been a crystal clear morning. I love these sorts of dramatic changes in the weather and chose to make that the subject of the painting. Also as I'm serving as the Artist in Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY  I have in my mind the watercolors of Charles Burchfield, who loved an oncoming storm more than anyone.



Philip Koch, East Aurora Barns, oil on panel, 14 x 21", 2016

On my last trip to Buffalo in June I spent most of my time in the nearby town of East Aurora. It was an area that Charles Burchfied loved to paint. 

It held an additional attraction for me as the town had so much of the look and feel of my old hometown of Webster, NY, just outside of Rochester. We all find certain places ressonate with us in a very personal way. Often times they resurrect old memories for us. This can lead one to traffic in a formula-ridden nostalgic way of painting. But when approached correctly, inviting some of the energies of long held memories into one's painting can provide a vital spark. 

Once in East Aurora my method was to slowly drive the backroads searching for a subject. I had in mind wanting to paint some architecture much like Burchfield often did. I came across a barn with a cupola atop it that seemed loaded with personality.  Yet it felt unconnected to the surrounding field. I needed to get a conversation going between it and some other major element. After trying out about 20 different points of view I settled on letting an old apple tree obscure much of the barn. It seemed to bring out a rhythmic dance between the its limbs, the angles of the barn's roof and the irregular geometry of the dark far distance. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Upcoming Philip Koch Exhibition at Swope Art Museum


One of the galleries at the Swope Art Museum

Susan Baley, the Director of the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana is arranging the programming for the Museum's 75th Anniversary in 2017. As part of that the Museum will be featuring my work in a solo exhibition:

Light and Shadow: Paintings and Drawings by Philip Koch from Edward Hopper's Studio,  January 20 - March 25, 2017.

The Swope is blessed with a world class collection of American realist paintings from the first half of the 20th century. The Museum's first Director, the painter John Rogers Cox, purchased them for the Museum.  He had a good eye and was able to buy important pieces for his new collection before their prices reached today's stratospheric level. 




The Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana

The 75th Anniversary programming will focus on the Museum's permanent collection and connect it to some contemporary artists. Perhaps the keystone of the Swope's collection is its masterful Edward Hopper oil, Route 6, Eastham. Hopper painted it on Cape Cod near the studio he built in the nearby town of Truro, MA. It is through this painting that my own art connects to the Swope's legacy. 



Edward Hopper, Route 6, Eastham, oil on canvas, 1941


Most of the actual painting of Route 6, Eastham was done in Hopper's studio with him working from from extensive on site drawings he had made. I am fortunate to have been granted unprecedented access to Hopper's Truro studio. This year
I will be having my 16th residency staying and painting there. 



Philip Koch walking up the path from the beach to Hopper's
Truro, MA studio.



I have been doing a long running series of paintings of the interior of the Hopper studio during my stays there. Also I've used the studio as a base of operations to explore the immediately surrounding area and paint landscapes with my portable French easel.  


Philip Koch, Truro Studio Bedroom and Easel, oil 
on panel, 7 1/2 x 10", 2015, a painting I made with my 
easel set up in Hopper's bedroom looking at his easel in
the distance.




Philip Koch, The Reach IV, oil on canvas, 40 x 60",
2011. A painting done from memory and imagination. 
The setting is the shore on Cape Cod Bay just below
Hopper's studio. It is based on a charcoal drawing I
made on location on the beach there. I removed the
contemporary beach houses that have sprung up, 
choosing to depict it as it would have appeared in 
Hopper's time.





Philip Koch, Down to the Bay, oil on canvas, 36 x 72"
2008. I painted this from the town of Wellfleet, just
north of where Hopper painted his oil Route 6, Eastham.

 Here are some more of the paintings in the Swope's Permanent Collection.





Grant Wood Spring Planting,  oil, 1942




Thomas Hart Benton, Threshing Wheat,  1939



Charles Burchfield, Old Houses in Winter, watercolor, 1929-
1941.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Myterieous Beauty of Edward Hopper's Captain Strout's House


This is one of my all time favorite paintings, a watercolor by Edward Hopper, Captain Strout's House, Portland Head from 1927. It's in the collection of the venerable Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT (founded in 1842!). The light and color of the painting are amazing. Yet I always sensed there was something beyond that but I couldn't put my finger on it. I think this painting points to how playful spontaneity and unconscious thinking makes the art happen.

In our kitchen each year we always have a wall calendar that features Hopper paintings. One evening as I was scrubbing a frying pan I paused and glanced up at the calendar. That month featured a big reproduction of Captain Strout's House. My eye fastened on the far watery horizon and a mental alarm bell went off. The water to the left of the house was way higher than the water level on the right.  They didn't come close to lining up with each other. How could this be?

Looking a little longer I realized my eye liked the discontinuous levels of the water. It added a hidden syncopation to the painting. I was amazed I'd never noticed this before about the painting-probably because the disconnected levels of the water fit into the overall composition so perfectly. 

There's a skinny fence rail in the immediate foreground that most of us tend to pay little mind to. Notice how the rail slopes down diagonally from left to right. Then compare the two spots where the ocean disappears behind the walls of the house. These two water levels imply a hidden diagonal that runs exactly parallel to the sloping foreground fence railing. 

Hopper was famous for his long searches after just the right subject matter. Once he found this exceptionally good subject and viewpoint I bet he was chomping on the bit to do the painting. He painted this watercolor from direct observation, beginning by quickly drawing in pencil the angles he saw. His hand would have been guided by careful optical measuring but also pushed and pulled by the sensations the view was having on him. I believe he unconsciously altered the horizon lines to make them mimic the thrust he felt in the fence. I suspect he didn't notice the what he had done until later. He probably liked how this "accident" energized and made this landscape less ordinary. 

We can't know if my theory about Hopper's painting is correct. He was notorious for saying and writing almost nothing to explain his work. But we do have this glowing little painting. To me that matters way more.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Happy Birthday Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper, Rooms by the Sea, oil on canvas, 1951, 
Yale University Art Gallery


Woke up this morning and realized it was the birthday of the artist who inspired me to become a painter. Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882- May 15, 1967). Many years ago as a teenager I had all the usual concerns of someone that age but visual art wasn't one of them. My parents subscribed to Newsweek magazine and as I thumbed through a copy I stumbled across the mysterious painting above. Though I'd never heard of Hopper I remember thinking to myself "Now THAT'S a painting!" A seed was planted.


Philip Koch, Cape Cod Morning, oil on canvas, 33 1/2 x 50", 1994.
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. A painting I made of a building in 
Wellfleet, MA just south of Edward Hopper's studio on Cape Cod. 
Without knowing Hopper, I don't know if I ever would have let
myself paint a subject like this.

It's ironic how someone you have never met can prove instrumental in shaping your life. Years later as a fledgling art student I rediscovered Hopper's work, fell in love, and changed from working abstractly to making realist paintings inspired by the glowing light and dramatic shadows Hopper painted.

Hopper's Rooms by the Sea was inspired by what the artist saw looking out one of the doors to the studio he built in 1934 on Cape Cod, MA. The Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana contacted me recently to discuss holding a show of some of the paintings I've made during my 16 residencies in Hopper's former painting studio in Truro, MA. I'm excited about this and am looking forward to the exhibit. It will probably be held in early 2017. The Swope is a particularly appropriate venue for this show as a keystone of its Permanent Collection since its founding is another Hopper Cape Cod painting, Route 6, Eastham.


Edward Hopper, Route 6, Eastham, oil on canvas, Swope Art Museum. 
A painting I have always loved. Hopper worked from a some buildings 
a few miles south on Route 6 of where I painted my oil above Cape Cod Morning.

The Hopper studio sits high up on a sand dune overlooking Cape Cod Bay. On a particularly glowering morning during one of my residencies there I took a walk down the long winding path Hopper used to reach the shore. Stopping to catch my breath I looked up and saw the studio from an angle I'd not noticed before.  On that cold morning it seemed to express something poignant about the man who used to live and work there. I made the drawing below from the spot. It reminded me of something out of Wuthering Heights.



Philip Koch, May 15, 1967,  vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2004.
The drawing has a lonely feeling to it so I chose the day
Hopper died for its title.


Hopper's work has survived him. By all accounts he was a shy and deeply introverted man. Some recall him later in life as often irritable, enough so that I am kind of glad I never met him in person.  But he shared the best part of himself through his paintings and for that I know I owe him a big debt of thanks.


Hopper in front of the Truro, MA studio he had built in 1934
from the 1960 photograph by Arnold Newman.

In other news:


A new book by Carl and David Little, Art of Acadia, has just been published. It's a 280 page hardback that provides a comprehensive art history of how Acadia National Park in Maine has influenced generations of artists. I am delighted to have my painting North Passage included in the volume. It is a painting done entirely from memory and imagination that's based on my dozens of painting trips to Acadia. Not a record of any specific spot it's more a tribute to what for me is the single most paintable spot of the East Coast
of the US. ( I am biased of course as my wife Alice and I honeymooned there years ago).


























Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Charles Burchfield Archives- Unexpected Influences





Philip Koch, Great Dunes II, oil on canvas, 36 x 72", 1985
A painting I made from a smaller plein air oil painted on location
just outside Provincetown, MA.

An unexpected benefit of being the Artist in Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center this year was spending time going through the Center's extensive Burchfield Archives. Charles Burchfield valued all his work and saved almost everything. Burchfield Penney has each of the 25,000 pieces of his work and his writing assigned a catalogue number and archivally stored. 

They gave me white cotton gloves and more boxes of his drawings than I could ever work through. Gingerly lifting each drawing out of its box I felt like Burchfield was sitting right next to me. For someone who wants to get beneath the surface of how a creative mind like Burchfield's worked, it was dream. 



 Philip Koch, State Road, oil on paper mounted to panel,
19 x 28 1/2",  circa 1989. I painted this on location
on the Eastern Shore of Marland.


Examinging hundreds of Burchfield's preparatory drawings gave me a more complete picture of how carefully and strategically he worked up his compositions. What I saw in the Archives proved to me it's possible to be both spontaneous and thoughtful as a painter.

The experience lit a fire under me to get images of my earlier work organized and to write notes about each of the paintings. Undertaking this made me take a long second look at paintings I haven't given as much thought as they deserve. 




Philip Koch, Third Story, oil on camas, 42 x 63", 1985. This was
the most creepy house near my Baltimore studio. Wouldn't want 
to spend the night in it, but I had to paint it. Its builders created
 an elegant gothic sculpture. Sadly it was torn down
after I painted it.


When I first stared with landscape painting I did almost all my work in oils outdoors in front of the source. Eventually I switched methods, opting to work in only black and white charcoal drawing outdoors and inventing color when I worked from the drawings in oil back in my studio. 

Getting to know my earlier oils better inspired me to start painting in oils outdoors again. In the last two weeks for for example I worked in oils outdoors in both Buffalo and Maine. I'm finding that I have more creative freedom with color after all that experience painting from my black and white drawings. I am thinking in color more clearly. Couldn't be more pleased with where things are going.




Philip Koch, Spring Front Yard, oil on canvas, 45 x 60", 1985.
While I liked this white house it seemed too formal viewed 
straight on. Seen from the neighboring yard the wild shapes of this 
screen of trees changed the feeling completely. Sometimes an 
oblique view tells us more.