In Praise of Disorganization and Clutter

Philip Koch, Ascension, oil on panel, 40 x 32'

There's a funny story to how this painting came about. I get stimulated by surrounding myself with lots of my work, both completed canvases and works in progress. I like to work on a lot of paintings at the same time- a few hours on one, then put it aside and work on another. It's not unusual to paint on 4 or 5 different pieces in any given day. Needless to say, there's lots of artwork in various stages of completion stacked (carefully) all around my studio. My wife always asks me if I wouldn't be happier if I "cleaned out" my studio. I confess I kind of need the clutter. You can be finished with a painting but that doesn't mean the painting is finished with you.

In the far corner of the room is a wall mirror. About 2 years ago, if one sat in a certain chair, the mirror would catch in its reflection a very oblique view of a long 84" horizontal  landscape leaning against the wall. Now this was an older painting and it had been in the same spot for many months- long enough that I'd pretty much stopped looking at it. Except the mirror's reflection transformed its image into something that grabbed my eye. The painting's wide horizontal forms  had been squished into a narrow vertical. And it looked fabulous. So I set off to see if I could do a painting on just that theme of forms rising up and falling down. Ascension pictured above is the result.

Countless times in my studio I come across a work in progress that I'd forgotten about. Something I'd put aside intending to get back to it, but instead had moved on to other projects. I think the key is in the forgetting. If you can't remember how you were thinking about the painting, you're free to see it with a fresh eye. Old difficulties with passages in the unfinished paintings very often will then suggest to you how they can be resolved. 

If only in real life you could put someone with whom your having a conflict on the shelf until you're ready to deal with them again. People, like fruit, don't take well to such treatment. But painting is a different matter.


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