Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cape Cod Museum of Art's "Unbroken Thread"

The Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis, MA is hosting the national touring exhibition of my work Unbroken Thread: The Art of Philip Koch through August 16th in its largest and beautifully skylit gallery space. The Museum has done a beautiful job with the exhibition.

The show reveals the on-going link between the American landscape painting tradition and the paintings of this modernist-influenced artist. It is particularly appropriate that the show appear on Cape Cod as in many  ways this was where I became a mature painter. It think it was in struggling to paint the strange colors of its white sand and stubby pine forests that I came into my own.

Years before in 1970 as I was entering my graduate painting program at Indiana University I was painting like an over-eager young dog chasing every squirrel at the same time. I had only recently stopped painting abstract imitations of Mark Rothko and Frank Stella's work. My discovering Edward Hopper's paintings in art books had put some wind into my new realist sails, but nonetheless there was still a strange mix of ideas bouncing around uncomfortably in my head. But just as I reached Bloomington, IN I had the good fortune to view a major exhibit of Hudson River School landscapes the University Art Museum had pulled together.

Such 19th century work was  way outside my previous experience, but it reminded me ever so much of home- the forested steep hills along the shoreline of Lake Ontario (just outside of Rochester, NY) where I'd spent my boyhood. Sure the Hudson River painters could be a touch too dark and gloomy, yet they clearly loved the trees and rocks they painted with such unblinking whole-heartedness.  I was snowed. Their example let me see my own recent past, something I'd been in a hurry to outgrow, as instead something of enormous value. Something that could make my art more genuine and personal. 

In a post last week I wrote about how childhood memory plays such a big role in most good art.

In the paintings I am making is a curious balancing act between two traditions: contemporary art's bold color and flat abstract shapes played off against the delight of deep spaces, natural light, and atmosphere of the 19th century painters. It's a little crazy, but it's a wonderful challenge to work out..

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