Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hopper's Rooms by the Sea


Philip Koch, The Easel, Edward Hopper's Studio, pastel
8 x 10", 1998

Dealing with ghosts is always tricky. 

I started going to stay and work in the Hopper studio on Cape Cod in little South Truro way back in 1983. But for the longest time I never touched Hopper's old easel. It sat in the corner like more like furniture, but to me it was more than than- too much more. One of his long sleeved painting shirts hung on the easel as if  on a display rack in department store. A half dozen of his brushes lay in the tray built into the easel, and hanging on a loop of worn string on the easel's side was an old wooden yardstick that Hopper used as a mahlstick to steady his hand for painting details. Drips of his paint were on the easel, but one could see he had been meticulous with his materials. For all the use it had received in painting so many of Hopper's world famous oils, it was remarkably clean. 

Since Hopper had been such an enormous influence on me when I was a young painter the darned easel took on in my mind aspects of a religious relic. Or perhaps I should say reliquary. 

Besides the glorious 10' tall north-facing studio window, the other crowning feature of the painting room is the dutch door or double door that opens out towards an unobstructed panorama Cape Cod Bay some 60' below. This doorway was the source for one of his most famous paintings, Rooms by the Sea now in the art museum at Yale. I'd done several paintings of the doorway and wished I could somehow bring myself to combine Hopper's easel and this storied doorway in the same painting. As it turned out, I just wasn't ready.

I funny thing happened in 1997. My students were working in soft pastel combined with charcoal and it got me itching to give this combination of media a go. As I did, I found it impossible to reproduce all my accustomed favorite color combinations. In time, the pastels nudged me into using a fundamentally different palatte of brighter hues in my oils as well.

Just as important, soft pastel wasn't a medium Hopper employed. My older work clearly showed Hopper's influence, but as color became more and more a key focus of my oil paintings, my choice of imagery began to shift away from Hopper's path. Wilderness came to replace the Hopper era architecture I had so often been painting. Honestly the most respectful gesture I could make towards Hopper's legacy would be to gradually grow out from under his shadow.

By the time 1998 rolled around and I came back to the old studio to work that fall, I felt the time was right and I moved the easel all the way across the room to do this early morning pastel. It literally wasn't a big move, but in what it symbolized in my head, it was a very big sign that I was moving into some new territory of my own,




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