Saturday, October 31, 2009

An Argument in Art School

Following this Rembrandt ink wash landscape are three more of his amazing drawings.

Back in the late 1960's I was a studio art major at Oberlin College. There were only three artists on the faculty, and of those only one could have been called an effective teacher and a good artist, Paul Arnold, a printmaker. I had the good fortune to be able to augment the limited art instruction. I spend the entire summers of '68 and - '69 living in New York City. I went to the art museums over and over again, my eyes drinking up all the delicious lessons on their walls.

And I went full time to the Art Student's League of New York, one of the country's most venerable art schools. It was pretty good too. I made hundreds of drawings from the model and did my first figure paintings in oil.

What was marvelous was for the first time I was around other art students with more experience than I had, and in some cases a desire equal to mine to plunge deep into painting and try hard make some great work. There was one fellow who I became friendly with who was a few years older than myself. He had been a junior stockbroker on Wall Street and had quit, feeling it had "chipped away" at his soul. He wanted a fresh start in his life and was determined like me to make his way as a painter.

Also like me he had fallen in love with Rembrant's magical drawings. We were in a painting class together but seemed to talk with each other about how we could learn to see well enough to make accomplished drawings. I was particularly taken with Rembrandt's figures- how in just a few flowing strokes he could capture the essence of a pose. His figures inspired me to study his remarkable use of lines, how he varied the direction, weight, and edge quality of his lines to evoke form and the figure's personality. He could get such amazing solidity with ever so few lines. This was his greatness I was convinced.

My friend preferred Rembrandt's landscape drawings. His take on was that Rembrandt's figures were so good only because he was such a master of creating the space around the figures. I'd never heard people speak of such a thing and couldn't wrap my head around what he was saying. We went back and forth over several weeks, neither convincing the other of our point of view. I think we both liked nursing the argument along.

But even after the summer ended I kept looking at Rembrandt's spaces and trying to see what my friend had been so taken with. Along about this time in the following Fall it slowly dawned on me that I was looking at paintings differently. I'd catch myself scanning across the surface, hopping from point to point, instead of focusing on favorite details. My eyes had taken up the habit of squinting ever so slightly to try to take in the whole of the piece I was looking at. And most of all found myself loving the sensation of slowly sinking deep and then deeper still into the farthest background in paintings. I remember in particular looking at a reproduction of a painting by Rembrandt's contemporary Rubens. It was a wonderful panoramic landscape with a group of hunters in it. It was so strong it made me feellike I was looking at the whole world. I even did a copy of that piece by Rubens. I realized I was changing and my painter's eye was growing stronger.

I wrote my friend a post card, and the body of the text contained only three words:
"You were right."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tiny Big Spaces

Philip Koch, Passage Color Harmonies I & II, pastel on
artist's sandpaper, each 5 1/2 x 8 1/4", 2008
I'll frame these two panels together as a diptych.

Sailboats. When I was a kid my dad never once played catch with me. Instead he bought a small sailboat and taught me to sail. I was allowed at an astonishingly early age to take the boat out by myself on the unprotected waters of Lake Ontario. Simultaneously proud and more than a little intimidated to be the "captain of my own ship" at such a tender age, the image of a lone small sailboat summons up in me a host of emotion- adventurous excitement tempered with background notes of anxiety.

For many years I was primarily a plein air oil painter. But my landscapes increasingly have come to represent more a state of mind than an actual place. As part of this evolution, in the last decade most of my larger pieces are done back in the studio from drawings.

To do this with real authority an artist has to explore this imagined location with lots of small experimental drawings. I often will begin on an absolutely tiny scale in my sketchbooks with ball point pen, creating thumbnail compositions that might be 2 x 3" or even smaller.

I generally keep these hidden in my sketchbooks, which are completely private (they are stored in a special brick-lined vault in my basement and guarded 24 hours a day by a half-starved Doberman). Knowing no one but me will see these earliest experiments allows me to be open to almost anything that suggests itself. It is my place to try out the things I don't yet fully understand. If I stumble, and I do often, there's no audience for it. The best of these little drawings are re-examined on a larger scale in vine charcoal, fleshing out the idea by adding light and gradations. Finally I'll jump into color with soft pastel chalks drawn on Wallis brand artist's sandpaper, an elegantly sweet surface to work upon.

Above are two preparatory drawings for my large oil painting Passage. I love working at this very modest scale and doing multiple variations on the same image as it makes me absolutely fearless. Degas was reputed to have said "Do the same drawing ten times. Do it a hundred times."

You're not trying to do exact copies of the same image- instead keeping some slack in the reins let's only partly intentional variations creep into the second or third version. Then sit back and let all the little studies compete to show you who's best. Working small frees up your mind to do the large paintings..

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Unbroken Thread Show at College of Southern Maryland

Here are some photographs taken yesterday at the opening reception for the College of Southern Maryland's Hungerford Art Gallery exhibition of the nationally traveling show Unbroken Thread: The Art of Philip Koch. It is on display in La Plata, MD through November 15, 2009. Below is Barbara Stephanic, Ph.D., an art historian who teaches at the College before the reception began.

The Gallery, located off the lobby of the College's theater in its Fine Arts Center is modest in size and could only accommodate half of the work originally selected for in the show. Nonetheless, the Gallery has large glass windows that allow visitors excellent lines of sight to take in even the largest works in the show. Normally big oils don't show this well in smaller spaces, so I was delighted with the arrangement. We are showing large oils and small works on paper side by side. Work shows beautifully in Hungerford Gallery's space. In total we had about 50 people come to the opening an artist's talk. Below is a photo of the audience starting to gather.

Here's Philip Koch with Eva Allen, Ph.D, the curator of the Unbroken Thread show and author of the accompanying exhibition catalogue, standing beside the oil The Song of All Days, 36 x 72".

The large blue painting at the left is Equinox, oil on panel, 30 x 45". Two pastel color studies for Equinox hand immediately to the paintings left.

Here at the left of Equinox is Andrew Wodzianski, a studio art instructor at College of Southern Maryland who I first met at the Maryland Institute College of Art where he was in the MFA program. It was a pleasant surprise to talk with his and hear he's still painting away with his own work. Eva Allen the curator is at the right.

Below at left is the oil on canvas Down to the Bay, 36 x 72", a painting I had been working on for several years. I eventually decided on a colorful but mostly empty sky to contrast the very active shapes on the ground. The right is the vertical oil The Birches of Maine, 40 x 32". I grew up in the north woods of upstate New York in a forest of birch, pine and beech trees. Birches are one of those things that always make me drift off into reminiscence. From talking to other northerners, I know I'm not the only one to feel this way.

Below on the right is Ascension, oil on panel, 40 x 32". It is a fantasy painting based on the same place as the other large Cape Cod painting in the show, Down to the Bay. I was thinking of all the wonderful paintings from the Renaissance where various saints ascend to the heavens and wondered what a secular, landscape version of that theme might look like. One of the great pleasures of living I think is to be able to appreciate the always unfolding drama playing out over our heads in the sky. We need to have paintings about that.

Sandwiched between the big oils the small work on paper is a page out of one of my sketchbooks that has several ball point pen thumbnail compositional studies for Ascension. I do a lot of preliminary work on an absolutely tiny scale with ball point in sketchbooks. It helps me a lot. This is the first and only time I've shown one of these publicly.

Two CSM students taking in the exhibit.

At the artist's talk I spoke about some of the ways art is meaningful to me- how looking at art can reacquaint viewers with aspects of themselves they need to get to know better. Art, like music and dance, fills some void within us. Why else would every human society ever known have developed its own visual art tradition. True, its exact purpose is hard to pin down, but behind that mystery lies a very big part of who we really are.

On occasion I have been asked if I worry that "painting is dead." I'd like to answer "It will be fine until the last human dies. Then it will be in real trouble."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why Artists Have Exhibitions

Philip Koch, Night in the Mountains, pastel, 9 x 12", 1999

The above is a pastel done from a plein air vine charcoal drawing I did at Lake Megunticook just outside Camden, Maine. Though it rained steadily for much of the time I was there, it was still possible to gather the impressive silhouettes of the lakes and mountains that Maine offers up so well. It meant also that from the get go I had to imagine a light and shadow situation more vivid and helpful than that supplied by the elements. I've developed a habit of drawing when necessary from the front seat of a rental car that has served me well on quite a few painting trips to New England.

If you're serious about painting, you can't let nasty weather stop you. In fact, it's part of the adventure of trying to make paintings about the out of doors. All the painters I most admire worked their way through the challenge of bad weather. When I have an exhibition of my work, part of what I am showing off is my ability to outsmart the weather gods.

Tomorrow I drive down to La Plata, Maryland to the College of Southern Maryland for a noon opening reception for their showing of my nationally traveling exhibition Unbroken Thread: The Art of Philip Koch. I'll also be giving a short artist's talk to the guests. (Any readers in the area are more than welcome to attend). I tend to do a lot of exhibitions- this will be my fourth solo show this year and it has kept me extremely busy keeping all the balls in the air. But I believe its a vital part of the whole process of art making.

What artists do is tell stories with just images. If we're any good we show our audience something they don't yet know. One of the best complements I hear sometimes is "I've never seen landscape paintings that felt quite like this." Hearing that heartens me. Landscape painters of necessity go off by themselves more than most people. We have to for it takes many many hours to find the material you need to make the best paintings. It can be very lonely. In some ways it is a labor intensive occupation from hell, though we get up the next day eager to do it all again. But especially because we do such isolating work, there is something doubly important about connecting with your audience. Yes, people do make a fuss over you as the artist at your own opening, and I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit to liking that. But there is something deeper involved too.

We are all born into a mysterious world we at best can only partly understand. Everyone has private moments of apprehending great beauty, or meaning, yet rarely are they able to communicate those precious experiences to others. What a privilege to be an artist- to have the time, training, and the talent to work with the language of images and share my most insightful "stories" with the rest of the tribe. Having a show seems to me part of a ritual that goes all the way back to the earliest days of our species. It says we are here, together sharing some thing of special meaning to us all. It's a solemn nod of appreciation to the fact of our being alive and having the capacity to feel.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Day I Became a Landscape Painter

Philip Koch, Looking South, oil on canvas, 18 x 36", 2006

Something that used to be a staple of American painting, the vast landscape panorama, had its heyday back in the mid 19th century. At that time the subject attracted the finest talents to mastering its challenge. Then fashions changed and more closed in views, where the far distance is reachable, came to predominate. Actually I love both kinds of landscape painting.

But if I had to choose (sort of a Sophie's Choice nightmare for painters) I'd have to say my heart is with the deep spaced paintings. It's not a rational choice, its more about where do I feel most deeply at home.

One of the highest purposes of being an artist is the task of noticing what's commonly going unnoticed by most people, and then finding a fresh way to present it to let people see what they're missing. In particular, those elusive qualities of meaning and beauty, so often get lost to us in the details and stresses pressed upon us by daily living. Want to tell you about the afternoon when I made the decision to become a landscape painter.

When I arrived at Indiana University in Bloomington in 1970 to begin my two year MFA in Painting program, I was young and running in several directions at once as a painter. I was serious and passionate about becoming a truly fine artist. But confusion was rampant. Then one afternoon I had a personal epiphany.

It was October. My wife was pregnant for the first time. I didn't know quite what to make of that having never been a father before. My own father had died when I was young so I had little experience with what a good father meant. So it was an exciting but also an unsettling prospect. In addition I'd just returned from bringing our beloved black cat back from the vet. He'd had come down with a nasty respiratory infection and the vet said his chances of living were at best 50/50 (fortunately he did survive, but was left partially crippled for the rest of his life). So death and life were on my mind. I was worried about all this and apprehensive about what the future held. And was confused as all heck as to what course to take with my painting.

I had climbed up the high hill in back of the house trailer where we lived as far as I could until the dense undergrowth forced me to stop. I sat down and fell into looking out over the long narrow valley where we lived. From this elevated point I could see for the first time the true silhouette of the opposing hill across the valley. Unremarkable when viewed from down in the valley, at this height one saw its monumental contours stretched over an elaborate series of arcs and straight lines. It looked remarkably like the elegant form of a Canadian goose in flight, an animal favorite of mine from childhood.

It was nearing sunset on an overcast day, and the light only managed the most subtle casts of yellow. The understated glow matched my interior mood and I felt a curious calm descend over me and all the rough edges seemed to fall away. Able to see literally for miles, the enormity of the world struck me as if for the first time. It seemed big enough to contain everything. All through this valley, I thought, both the most wonderful and tender things and yet also painful endings must be happening. The grand setting where it was all taking place seemed to me that afternoon so incredibly beautiful. Somehow that mysteriously made a feeling a acceptance and even gratitude flow through me.

I always remember that moment as a island of personal clarity. I decided sitting on that hillside that there is really nothing I want to do more than spend my time immersed in the big forms of the earth and sky and all the feelings they carry for me. I can't recreate that special moment I had that afternoon in 1970, but I can take to heart the meaning it held for me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Gift from my Sister in Canada

This is an oil by one of my favorite painters, the 20th century Canadian Lawren Harris. You don't see much of his work down here in the US, and that is a shame. He was one of a whole number of painters who absorbed some of the lessons of modernism in the early years of the last century. But while open to modernist thinkng, they were also committed plein air landscape painters. Calling themselves "The Group of Seven" they seem to catch a wave of Canadian nationalism and found broad acceptance in their own country.

The reason I'm aware of them at all is because my sister Kathy moved to Toronto in the late '60's and started sending me postcards of her favorite of the "7", Harris. At first I didn't care much for his work. In those years I was much more of a committed naturalist and valued layered surfaces and intricate textures.

Harris seemed a bit too geometric and simplistic, but my sister kept on sending a card or two a year and darn if the guy didn't start growing on me. Sometimes that happens.

Someone like Lawren Harris seems to me related to the US painters like Charles Burchfield, Georgia O'Keefe, Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, and Rockwell Kent. All had a profound interest in powerful abstact composition and geometric solid form. All valued invention on the part of the artist to complete the vision they had developed.

The above painting of a pines reflecting in a pond has an incredible rhythm to it, as do the snow-laden branches of the tree in front of the orange house below.

Harris also has a deeply romantic, almost mystical side to his vision:

I grew up on the northern fringes of the US (my house was on the south shore of Lake Ontario, just southeast of Toronto. My mother had gone to school in Toronto and used to speak of it when I was little. I used to strain my eyes to try to see the tops of Toronto's skyscrapers). Canada had a fascination for me as a child. When, with my sister Kathy's insistence, I learned about Harris's work, that intrigue took on a painter's form.

Harris himself later in his life abandoned plein air painting in favor of a harder edged abstract painting. I've never cared for the direction his last works took. He eventually moved the US, ending up spending his last years in the American southwest. Looking at the vitality of his Canadian winter scenes, this is hard for me to fathom. But along with my crew of inspirations from US art history, Harris has proved an inspired source for my own painting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Looking Out, Looking Back

Philip Koch, Fall at Lake Lemon, oil on canvas, 16 x 19", 1971

Philip Koch, Birches in the Forest, oil on canvas, 20 x 30",

More reminiscing as I put paintings back into my just renovated storage room in my new basement (Maya Angelou and George Clooney are rumored to be planning to attend the official dedication ceremony I'm planning for later in the week).

These two paintings are both from earlier decades in my career. The first was painted during my first year in graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington. I had been doing a series of surreal landscape paintings without using any photos for reference nor any direct observation . One day one of the painting faculty at Indiana, Barry Gealt, stuck his head in the door to my studio one afternoon, looked over the work for a moment, and then amicably said "Why don't you try painting outside sometime. I think you'd really like it." Then in a flash he excused himself and disappeared down the hall. Amazing as it seems now, until that moment the thought had never occurred to me. I'd never seen a portable easel and didn't know such things existed, much less seen anyone actually using one outdoors to make a painting. Looking back on this story I have to smile today. Sometimes the biggest turns in your road present themselves at first in the most casual of ways. I took Barry Gealt's advice, and a whole new world opened up to me.

The paintings I produced that first year were heavily influenced by looking at 19th century landscape paintings. I was taking an art history class on 19th century European painting from Charles Haxthausen and a 19th Century Landscape Painting art history class from Louis Hawes. Hawes was a Constable scholar and his enthusiasm for that painter's work pushed me to start doing oil copies from Constable reproductions and even to take Constable books out into the field while I worked. I loved it as it gave me something like a handrailing as I tried to find my footing in what was to me unknown terrain. Starting all my paintings on a dark warm raw umber ground held all my work together that year.

While you can see a great deal of the 19th century method in Fall at Lake Lemon, my practice gradually shifted in the following decade and a half. Birches in the Forest shows the evolution. I was looking at a lot of impressionist work and liking it. One of my favorite inspirations was Claude Monet, but not the late Monet of the fuzzy water lilies. Rather I was (and am) more impressed by his earlier work where he holds onto his love of solidity and volume while demonstrating his amazing eye for the colors of light.

Often I feel too much is made of the "revolutionary" side of the French Impressionists. That was real, but at the same time these were artists who knew the realist tradition cold. They had trained and practiced until they could draw circles around many of painters of today.Innovating with one hand, they held onto the threads of that tradition with the other. Most of the American painters who took inhaled some of the first Impressionist vapors tended to follow the path of more solid forms and more clear delineation. Many of them (Sanford Gifford comes to mind along with George Inness, and later Winslow Homer) did world class art in the process.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Good Artist Has More Than One Way of Working

Philip Koch, Cathedral, oil on canvas, 42 x 54"

Above is a large painting done in my studio from a smaller plein air oil.

Philip Koch, Blackbird's Pond III, oil on panel, 13 1/2 x 18"

And above is an on location painting, pretty much started and finished outside on the portable easel.

These two paintings show the opposing tendencies in the two different ways of working. Both however are deeply indebted to direct observation of reality. As I often tell my students, reality (or "nature" as they used to say in the good old days) has a four and a half billion year head start on us. No wonder it is more evolved than any one of us . Inevitably there is something happening outside that is more inventive and evocative than anything one can summon up out of one's imagination. The trick is to keep one's eyes open to find it.

Cathedral is about selection, thoughtful consideration and gradual refinement. You can say a lot in a large studio painting and its success depends on staying focused on its message over many weeks time. Blackbird's Pond III celebrates a shoot-from-the- hip response to a location that has caught my eye. I learned early on with on location painting to employ brushes that were slightly larger than I initially want to use. The big guys force you to pull out of the complexity your absolute favorite large shapes. There isn't time working outdoors to do anything but block in the key element. Different parts of the painting will often bump into each other like rush hour riders on the subway. The tension of all these little collisions can often energize the whole painting. What one loses in term of smooth transitions you can make up and then some with a more lively surface. The plein air painting is the artist's version of living in the moment.

Cathedral looks in the other direction. Much of our experience as humans gains extra meaning from recollection and reflection. There are events in our life that become more important over time as we look back and come to understand them better. Studio painting speaks to this side of our lives. We humans are forgetful animals. Anything we can still recall after the passage of time is usually the important stuff. Some aspects of our emotions can only be revealed by steady working over weeks or months (or yes, years) in the studio.

The best way for any artist to work I'm convinced is alternating between quick and maybe even impulsive pieces and then long, slowly evolving major creations where you have time to consider, re-evaluate, and become profoundly selective. As a person you are more than just one thing. As an artist you should have more than just one way of working.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Artists and Nurses Saving Lives

Philip Koch, Beneath the Pine, oil on panel, 21 x 28", 2007

There are two stories here I want to interweave.

I have a cold and I'm moving a tad slower than usual. My basement art storage room flooded two months ago and my kind neighbor Seanah volunteered to let me store some of my larger paintings in her basement while a construction crew renovated my entire bottom floor. At 1:30 this morning I'd been asleep for several hours when the phone rang. It was Seanah telling me now her basement was flooding from the torrential rains we've been having since Thursday along the east coast. So, prying my groaning body out from the sheets, I hopped into my clothes and spent an hour moving the art work in her house to higher ground and safety. I'm afraid my paintings are feeling like Hurricane Katrina refugees.

The good news is the workers just finished my new basement and I can now move the art back into its new improved home. I've been carrying the work into the new storage room. With its brand new walls and freshly tiled floor something funny is happening- against this new environment, the work is looking better. And the new space is bigger and flexible- much better for keeping the precious work safe. I feel I can take better care of it now.

The above painting was begun long ago. Originally it had a figure in the foreground raking the lawn. I did it from life, with my daughter modeling in the studio, balancing on a sloping board to mimic the painting's foreground hillside. The figure turned out great as a figure, but I was never sure whether or not it fit the needs of the painting. After "sleeping on it" for literally years, I concluded the figure really was good but belonged in a different painting. So I removed it and made a number of other adjustments. The painting is much stronger now.

What's important is to stay involved with your older paintings. With troubled paintings, sometimes you can run in and make a brilliant diagnosis on the spot like in one of those TV hospital dramas. Other times you have to just keep observing the patient's symptoms over time before you know what the proper treatment should be. Being an artist is never a horse race.

My wife Alice is a nurse and extremely proud of her profession. Give her a chance and she'll tell you if you're really sick it's good nursing care that's going to save your neck. Artists have to take care of their work. That means two different things. First, staying with the piece over perhaps a long, long period until it reveals how its problems can be resolved. But also being the protector of your work. The lag between when you finish a painting and when it finally finds a home can be very long. Until then you have to watch over it and protect it. If you don't it will get damaged and dirty. Your paintings deserve the best treatment. It's a good idea for artists to take on a few of the honorable duties of the nursing profession. It saves lives.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Speculating: Why I Paint So Many Islands

Philip Koch, The Violet Whisper, oil on canvas, 30 x40"

Artists frequently return to paint the same theme again and again. Me, I seem to do islands.

Last night I had a nightmare about a hunter bleeding a captive deer to death. In the dream I want to rescue the deer but am unable, feeling impotent and terrified. Danger and loss are tough topics for any of us. And anything that offers escape from them is a balm for one's heart. It's also a crucial theme in art.

As a landscape painter, I've always been puzzled by my own lack of interest in painting the wide open sea. Or large waves crashing on the rocks. It's a theme that fascinated one of our best painters, Winslow Homer. As a boy there was a Homer watercolor print in our living room and he was the first painter I could identify by name. But I seem to want none of Homer's bursting waves.

The week I turned four we moved to a new house my father had built on the shore of Lake Ontario outside of Rochester, NY. My dad worked a lot and when he was home he tended to bury himself reading technical journals (he was a mad physicist). When I was about seven he and I took an overnight trip from Rochester to New Bedford, MA to buy an 11' rowboat/sailboat. To me this was a big deal. We brought it home and he taught me how to sail. Doing this together with him is my happiest memory.

Lake Ontario was often rough and always was on the cold side. Where we lived faced open water with no inlet or peninsula to shelter us from the prevailing wind that roared down from Canada. The simple dock my father installed was wiped away by the first big storm. Undaunted, he'd struggle to launch and then land the boat, half lifting and half dragging it over the rocks. Late in the first summer we had the boat the waves banged it against the rocks and ripped a huge hole in its bottom. My father carefully repaired it with epoxy resins and fiberglass cloth, but the following year the same thing happened in an even bigger storm. The boat was literally smashed into pieces. We only found a small section of her stern. I felt the loss of the boat keenly. Without the sailing I saw much less of my dad. He died just a few years later at age of 49. With him gone, I realized in his quiet way he had been the glue that held my family together. I'm very grateful for the time I had with him and his leaving when I was just 13 was sharply painful.

Once as an adult I had a powerful dream where in a storm I go down to the Ontario beach expecting to see crashing waves and discover instead three small barrier islands have magically appeared 100 yards off shore. There's a small sailboat moored behind the middle one, bobbing happily up and down in the protected waters waiting for me. The island felt like guardians, making it possible to negotiate the rough waters.

There are many literal and figurative storms that sweep through our lives. For me the image of rough water comes a little too close to home. I need to keep the feelings I associate with it at arm's length. Sheltering islands can come in a lot of forms. One wonderful example is a partner who knows how to be a genuine friend. A personally meaningful job, like painting, is another.

There are lots of rough, cold waters out there. Painting sheltering islands helps me feel centered and safe, but also intrigued and excited- they make all sorts of great things possible. I'll be painting islands for a long time to come.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Old Friend

Philip Koch, After the Storm III, oil on canvas, 45 x 90"

Migrating geese.

You'd be awakened by the noise of hundreds of them flying over my boyhood home on the south shore of Lake Ontario, just east of Rochester, NY. They'd come through twice a year heading up to Canada and then back south in the fall. By the time I was six or seven I realized this was proof the world was both larger and stranger than the adults were letting on. How on earth did they find there way. Why didn't they just find a nice place and stay put?

One of the big reasons people make paintings is to savor ideas and memories that get lodged in their mind. When I try to recall the feeling of being a young boy, I think of myself craning my neck up to watch the flocks heading out over the water and disappearing into the distance. It seemed impossibly beautiful and completely exhilarating.

Years later at the urging of a painter friend from graduate school I went painting in Wellfleet, MA on Cape Cod for the first time. It was 1975. There is a long low island with wonderful silhouettes out on the far side of Wellfleet Harbor named Lieutenant Island that caught my eye.
Like so many of the dunes up there its form has the look and feel of a giant animal- perhaps a whale, or a dinosaur, or perhaps a Canadian goose.

This painting was done long after that first summer painting trip to Cape Cod. It's inspired by some of the particulars of Lieutenant Island. Really it's an homage to all the fantastical sand dunes up there and to the lively spirit they seem to possess. It's hard to look at them without sensing they could begin to move if they wanted to.

I was re-arranging my just renovated basement this evening and was just moving this large oil back into its new storage place. Looking at it again for the first time in a long while I drifted back to other times. And to Cape Cod, and to my old home on the shore of Lake Ontario.

I don't expect others who view my paintings will have just the same experience as they'll use the lens of their own past to view the painting. But the measure of a painting's power lies in its ability to set them off on a little reverie of thought and mood of their own. Likely it recalls to them some part of their past. When painting is done right, memory and emotion are both stirred up by the artist's hand.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Behind the Scenes Hanging an Exhibition

The paintings for the next installment of my national traveling exhibition Unbroken Thread were delivered today to the Hungerford Gallery at the College of Southern Maryland in La Plata, MD. The show was organized originally by the University of Maryland University College in Adelphi, MD, next door to College Park and will be traveling around the country until 2011. Here's the work being spotted for placement on the Gallery's walls. Above is the oil Equinox.

This is Larry Chappelear a faculty member in the College's Art Department who is in charge of the crew that does the actual hanging. Larry is a fine painter himself and started teaching at the College of Southern Maryland in 1973, the same year I began teaching at Maryland Institute College of Art. He is standing in front of the large oil The Song of All Days.

Finally here are two large oils, The Birches of Maine on the left and Ascension on the right. In the center is a page taken from my sketchbook where I did some preliminary working drawings with notes about possible color choices in ball point pen. Eva J. Allen, Ph.D., the art historian who curated the traveling show, saw the working drawings and insisted we include one in the exhibit. At first I was skeptical, but after seeing how much interest viewers have in how I go about refining my ideas before I make the paintings, I see she was right.

It is remarkable how different the work has looked in the three previous venues the show has gone to. At the University of Maryland University College last year my favorite piece was the oil Equinox. At the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore last spring my favorite was The Song of All Days. This last summer at the Cape Cod Museum of Art my eye went first to The Birches of Maine. Can't wait to see what strikes me this time around. I'll post images of the opening reception and the work fully installed later this month.

If anyone is in the area, their is a public reception and artist's talk on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at noon.
It would be great to see you there.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dancing at a Wedding

I myself started out as an abstract painter in the late 1960's. This was a good thing as I couldn't yet draw very well but still wanted to at least get started learning the language of painting. My first year painting I probably pumped out some 80 colorful abstract canvases. I learned a lot in the process. To this day some of the color combinations I most enjoy came from what I discovered that first year.

After a while I wanted to add something more to the mix. It seemed reality outside my studio beckoned to me and I started a serious, years-long program of teaching myself to draw the human figure. It was hard work but terribly exciting to me. The very tall stack of drawings of the nude I produced made it possible for me to be the painter I am today. But also valuable I know were the early abstract experiments I did. They weren't great paintings, but they let an inexperienced teenager feel he was embarking on a great journey.

One of the painters I've always admired worked not far from the little town of Oberlin in northeast Ohio where I first started painting. He was Charles Burchfield (American 1893 - 1967). He had graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art (which I also attended briefly) majoring in textile design. Shortly after graduation though he drifted back to painting, creating in watercolor a remarkable body of work. One can see in his watercolors an ability to set up a rhythm that moves across the whole surface of the painting, pulling many individual forms together into a disciplined group.

Last weekend my wife and I attended the wedding of her young co-worker Laura. I didn't know most of the guests and clung to the comfort of the few I did know. Then the music started to get good and a few people got up to dance. Fortified by wine, my wife and I got up there too with an assortment of 20 other strangers ranging from two 2 year old twins to people in their 70's. You can lose your self consciousness and just fall into the waves of music at a time like that. Looking at the faces of the other dancers I saw genuine smiles of people honestly enjoying themselves. Everyone had their own style of moving, some more elegant than others, but we were all more or less doing it in time to the same beat. The music is an abstract force invented by an artist that washes over the crowd. It took individuals who were strangers and gave them a rhythm to be together on the same page just for a few minutes. It made a lot of people happy.

Burchfield, Night of the Equinox, watercolor

Burchfield is one of the painters whose work is most often related to sound and to music. You can see why. If the task of painters is to show people how seemingly unrelated objects can be made to talk to each other, Burchfield is a go-to guy. What I like about his work is he doesn't sand down all the eccentricities of his objects, but unites them by turning the volume up on his rhythmic "music." Painting after all is in large part just a dance done by an artist's hand. The actual painting is the pattern of colored footprints left behind when they're done.

Burchfield, Late Afternoon, watercolor

I don't paint very much like Burchfield myself. He's so distinctively himself that's probably a good thing. But he was an artist who taught by example that abstraction isn't some rarified conceptual creation but rather something embedded right in the heart of the world. To me he blows the pants off some of the other modernist American painters who seem to get more attention. Maybe its because he looks like he was having too good a time.

Burchfield, Moon Flower, watercolor

Sunday, October 11, 2009

More Art Lessons from the Four Legged Master

Edward Hopper, Gas, oil on canvas

Isabella hiding in flower pot in my garden 9/10/09

Above are examples of high and low art (I'll leave it to the viewer to decide which is which). In the earlier post this week "Why Insight Is More Like a Cat Than a Dog" I ask how an artist gets good ideas. Yesterday I was walking out of my house to go to a wedding and ran across the acknowledged master of these deeper questions, my neighbor's cat Isabella.

She usually hides behind the tree that holds up my bird feeder. But recently she's taken to skulking in my neighbor's flower pot in her quest for little bird canapes. She does it for hours on end. If she's patient enough and keeps her eyes open it works. The other masterpiece pictured above is by Edward Hopper. It depicts a gas station at dusk on the old route 6 highway that threads up the forested middle of Cape Cod. Hopper drove an old Buick and, gas guzzler that it no doubt was, refueling it gave him time to day dream.

There are actually two old gas stations in near Hopper's old town of Truro, MA that he must have frequented. Both are still there though one now lies long abandoned. Hopper sort of mentally collaged them together to arrive at his version. While standing there breathing in the fossil fuel bouquet, he pictured in his mind how the elements of the scene could be re-assembled- the oncoming glow of electric light, the slowly diminishing twilight, the dense and slightly haunted woods parted by the asphalt, and a thin balding man addressing the human-scaled gas pump. It became in the his imagination a reverie on a whole cavalcade of themes- of living, time, night and mystery.

Where Hopper is like the cat I think is he just went about his business day in and day out. He probably didn't often hide in bushes hoping to snatch unsuspecting birds, though I can't find anything in the art historical literature on this point. But when he was doing something seemingly unrelated, like filling his gas tank, he somehow stayed open to the poetic possibilities of the experience. Poetic is a fancy sounding word I don't much care for. It means something has an unexpected ability to make you sense an emotion who weren't looking for.
Hopper took the most ordinary seeming of activities and shows us an extraordinary side to the experience. Like our friend Isabella, he kept his eyes open. But Hopper also kept open his inner painter's eye that could see the possibilities everyone else had overlooked in their hurry to get on with things.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Starving Artists? No Thanks

Thomas Hart Benton, Hades, oil

Here's a painting where the American 20th century artist Benton explores the old Persephone myth. It's one of those stories people invented to try to make sense of the whole notion of creativity. How can anybody make something seemingly out of nothing- whether you're talking about creating a child, a painting, a piece of amazing music. And when the creative flow stops, how come? We've been trying to figure this puzzle out for centuries. Centuries from now, humans will still be scratching their head.

"Starving Artists."

How did we get so used to that awful phrase? Anthropologists tell us that every human society ever discovered has left us at least some evidence of its own developed and sustained visual art tradition. When you think about the more immediate challenges to their survival those peoples had to face (running away from lions for one) this is nothing less than amazing. Like it or not, visual art is right at the core of who we are. We who presume to be the visual artists of our time aren't going away any time soon. Trouble is we have to eat and pay the rent. Art schools and college art departments have an obligation to at least try to get young artists thinking about their survival.

Here are a few thoughts:

1. There are far easier paths, so if you are convinced you need to be an artist, get into your studio and lock the door. Don't come out until you have a tall pile of work that is truly excellent. The pile has to be taller than you are.

2. Now that you have miles of used up canvas (or whatever) behind you, you've grown enormously as an artist and finally have something to be genuinely proud of. Trouble is, now you owe it to the work to find an audience for it.

3. Remember that out there somewhere is someone who will pay real money for what you've created. You just have to find them.

4. The audience for your work has to be created, primarily by you.

5. Start small and build your audience one person at a time.

6. Nobody ever fell in love with a piece of art they haven't seen. Most people are shy by nature and are reluctant to visit the studio of an artist they don''t know well. Therefore you have to get the work out of your studio somehow.

7. Exhibit your work. Start locally. Check out bars, restaurants, libraries, craft shows and where ever else you see other artists exhibiting. Gradually you'll find some locations that are better than others. Good lighting and nice clean walls go a long way to helping people discover what's good in your work.

8. Gradually work your way up the pecking order of exhibition spaces. The nicer the venue, the better you work will appear. Some of the most god-awful art gets shown in some huge, immaculate museum gallery spaces and as a result ends up looking not half bad. Of course sometimes excellent art gets shown too, and the setting makes it looks even better. Your job is gradually recruit better spaces to exhibit. One rung on the ladder leads to the next. If you're the heir to some hedge fund manager's fortune the ladder you will have to climb will be a little shorter. But all of us have to climb.

9. Invite people to come see your work- having a show somewhere gives you an excuse to contact them in a non-intrusive way.

10. Send people announcements of your shows that show crisp, colorful images of your work.
(Sadly, the public generally just doesn't get black and white no matter how well you may do it).
Email is good. Printed cards are also good, and have the extra advantage that people leave them around the house. I can't tell you how many times people have told me they have several cards of my work on their refrigerator door.

11. People want to be reassured that you are the real deal as an artist. Persist at your work and persist at letting people know about your work. Most artists get discouraged after a few years and drift off to other things. If you are still at it, that impresses people. So let them know.

12. Everyone likes to be remembered. Find ways to stay in contact with people who have expressed interest in your work or who are already collectors. One of the great fears everyone has is that they'll be forgotten.

13. You are an artist because of your enthusiasm for developing your vision in a certain medium. Somehow you have to be able to share that enthusiasm when you talk about your work without coming off like a cheap huckster. It can be done but it is an awkward balance. Too many artists apologize for their work's shortcomings to the public. Heck, of course your work is going to be better in the future. But to ask a potential collector to understand that and still collect what you have available today is asking too much of them. Don't be arrogant, but present your work like you are presenting something important. You are.

14. Art dealers are people who have build a network of collectors who have an interest in some styles of art. The dealers who are good work their tails off to do this. To work with a dealer is to have them introduce your work to a (hopefully) large group of people you probably can't meet any other way. That is worth a great deal to an artist.

15. Art dealers have it tough too, it isn't just artists. One of the easiest things for an artist to do is to use a bad experience with a dealer as an excuse to move to the sidelines of the art world. There are far more artists on the sidelines than are willing to take hits out on the field. This is not a game for pansies (which is odd, as we artists unfortunately really are sensitive people- that's the whole point of being an artist. A good artist by nature has a thin skin. So the bruises you receive will hurt).

16. Art dealers are people you will have a professional relationship with. It isn't primarily about friendship, even though you will come to be friends with some of your dealers. Even when you don't though, the relationship can be very helpful to you. Not all dealers are going to work out for you, nor you for them. Just move on with dignity if a relationship with a particular gallery doesn't work out. Most galleries only stay open for business for a few years anyway. We artists can expect to long outlast most galleries.

17. Remember that making art is a deeply personal and frequently mysterious affair, even to the artist, or maybe especially to the artist. It has its own rules that don't translate into the world of showing art and selling art. Even if you are doing everything right, there will be a chasm separating your creative studio life from your "art career." The latter is what you have to mess with to have the former. Every artist you admire who has gone before you faced these tough challenges too.

18. Number eighteen is the secret, guaranteed career building move that was revealed to me and me alone by the Muse during the full moon high on a mountain top in the Andes. I would share it with you but she made me promise not to. You know how temperamental she can be, so I have to remain silent. Maybe you can figure it out for yourselves.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why Insight Is More Like a Cat Than a Dog

Philip Koch, Bend in the Road, oil on canvas, 42 x 50"

Somewhere the Muse has a sack of good ideas. Capricious as ever, she takes them out one at a time and hides them here and there just to see who's sharp enough to find them. For the artist the question is where to look.

Maybe the worst thing to do is confront a big, blank white canvas and try to will oneself to come up with something. Insight is more like a cat than a dog. It doesn't come when called.

I've noticed a phenomenon over the years that the idea you are looking for is found when your not looking for it. Instead it comes when you're doing something else. For many years I was a serious runner who exalted in physically exhausting myself for the endorphin rush that follows. Running is great for day dreaming On my old jogging route one afternoon I was lost in though when I noticed one particular bend in the road just looked fantastic. Something about the rhythm of intervals between the trees and the telephone poles seemed just right.

The funny thing was that I had driven by this same spot for years but not noticed it, traveling at too high a speed I suppose. It took plodding down the road's shoulder in running shoes to let me see its great potential. The above oil is the larger studio version I did from a 20 x 25" oil plein air study. I like it a lot. Thinking of this painting's origin I try hard now to slow down and day dream, but keep still keep eyes open.

Some years back I was reading a book by a Jungian therapist (if you thought painters were strange, spend some time with Jungians) The author made a great comment. Apparently the ancient greeks who came up with their pantheon of gods and goddesses had a special attraction to Aphrodite (whom the Romans appropriated as their Venus). She was thought to have dominion over art and music, but also love and sexuality. She was nick-named the goddess of the sidelong glance, indicating her tendency to flirt and her roving eye. There are lots of juicy stories about her love life in books on mythology.

There's a message for us painters here from Aphrodite's personality. Somehow our creativity has to follow a sidelong, indirect path. In your mind you have a goal of producing a stunning new painting, but you can't get there running straight toward it. You think you know what you want or how to solve the problem with a certain passage in your painting. The solution, Aphrodite would tells us, lies in the spot next to where you're looking. So approach your ideas by at first circling around them, walking past them and then coming back to them from unexpected angles. Progress for the artist is like a sailboat having to tack to the left and then to the right to go into the wind. It takes a little longer, but it's the only way to keep from being blown off course.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Working My Way Forward Step by Step

Philip Koch, Two Islands Mt. Desert: Green, pastel, 5 x 10",

Phililp Koch, Two Islands Mt. Desert, vine charcoal,
7 x 14", 2009

Long day today and I still need to do some drawing, so this will be brief. Wanted to show you one of the things I'm working on right now. Above is a new studio color study I'm doing based on the charcoal drawing below it that I drew on location up on Mt. Desert Island in Maine last week. It is one of several pastels I'm doing experimenting with different color combinations for the sky, water, etc.

One thing I find helpful is to do the initial color explorations on a slightly smaller scale than the original charcoal drawings. I can work faster in the pastels that way and am more likely to try out color combinations that are new to me. If the color versions were any bigger, I'm get caught up in trying to get them "right" the first time. One can die from an excess of caution. Keeping them small short circuits this tendency, preventing me from having enough room to do more than just the major planes of color. Instead I usually do two or three different versions and then decide which is my favorite. If I like it enough I'll then go ahead and try an oil version, usually also at a very small scale.

Pastel is funny- it can give you amazing delicacy one day and the threaten you with harsh color chords the next. For me doing multiple studies in color is a life saver. For years I painted strictly in oil and found a whole number of favorite pigment combinations that I used over and over again. It was good, but there's always the danger of relying too heavily on the moves you've rehearsed before. Pastel came into my practice like a bunch of young and slightly wild horses. They let me do the steering, but not without wandering off the trail a bit. That's just want I want from them.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sometimes Not Knowing is Better

Philip Koch, Bend in the Pond, 55 x 44"
Collection University of Maryland University

People turn to visual art because it gives concrete form to something elusive yet important. We want to see the tangible evidence that, like ourselves, other people too have sensed the romance and drama that stirs within all of us. Art does this and thereby makes us feel less alone.

This is a piece that is several years older. It was painted from a plein air oil that was 25 x 20", a touch larger than my usual practice outside. It is from an old mill pond up in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts that powered a sawmill back in the 19th century. The remains of the old wooden waterwheel lay in the woods not a hundred feet from where I stood painting. As the small oil was larger than usual it took me several days to complete it. Next to where I stood was a rowboat and waiting oars. I imagined as a reward for finishing the painting I'd take it for a spin and explore the far side of the lake that was hidden from view.

As painters know, one's mind wanders a bit while one is working and I found myself fantasizing about what lay beyond the bend in the shoreline I was painting. Maybe something unexpected like a whole flock of herons or even eagles. Or who knew, maybe around the bend was an altogether other realm or time. Even old childhood enthusiasms crept back on stage. Perhaps a viking ship could round the corner at any moment. Getting a little bit carried away like this is important if your painting is ever to evoke emotions in your viewers.

The longer I painted on the piece the more I came to enjoy wondering what lay just beyond my sight. And when the painting was finally done I decided against taking the rowboat out on the water after all. The lovely stimulation of wonder and imaging had worked too well and cast just the right sort of creative spell over me. So I packed up and left the far end of the pond as an unexplored territory. The painting has more magic in it this way.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Three Different Kinds of Work Cooking in My Studio

Philip Koch, Acadia, oil on panel, 8 x 9", 2009

Just returned from the Maine painting trip, I took a look at a small oil I started way back in 1982 on my honeymoon with Alice in Acadia National Park. It looked good to me but just a touch too subtle. Breaking all personal records for going back into older pieces to repaint them, I went in and added new color choices.

I know there are some artists who feel art from previous decades has its own unique voice and shouldn't be tampered with. Yet I have learned so much about painting in the intervening years. They almost always get stronger when I go back in- probably about 95% of the time. In a perfect world we'd all know just what to do from the get go. In this world I welcome insights, even ones that come in late.

Philip Koch, Night Moon II, pastel, 8 x 10", 2009

This is a new pastel drawing I did from memory (regular readers may recall the vine charcoal drawing I posted a couple of weeks ago upon which this is based). This pastel was drawn on Wallis Sanded Pastel Paper, which is sturdy enough to accept a coat of an orange acrylic wash to serve as a ground. This was an experiment for me and I liked the process so much I'm continuing to use it. One can see the color sensibility I came up with in the studio influenced the color additions I put in the first image, Acadia. The trick with this pastel is to evoke the mood of the night without employing its actual hues. As my old favorite teacher Rudolf Baranik used to tell me in his class at the Art Students League of New York, "your first goal is mood." My color inventions aim toward that.

Philip Koch, Mountain Forest, vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2009

And above is a third way of working, a vine charcoal plein air drawing I did last week on the south side of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia national park. If you look closely you can see I've moved the background around a few times, ultimately eliminating a big mountain. I had intended the drawing to focus more on describing the far distance, but as it progressed the middleground took on a momentum I liked better.

One of the wonderful attributes of vine charcoal is its unrivaled flexibility. Taking out a mountain range can happen in under a minute, whereas even with oil paints this is a lengthy undertaking. It is tricky as vine charcoal smears all too easily. For a left-handed artist like myself, it means learning how to hover over the drawing's surface with the hand that holds the implement as if you're in a tiny helicopter. But the rewards of learning to do this far outweigh the costs.

My students think I'm something of a cultist about vine charcoal, as if it was personally presented to me by The Muse who appeared one night in my studio on a glowing cloud with harp music swelling up in the background. On second thought, wasn't that the way it happened?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It's the 21st Century. Do We Need Landscapes?

Philip Koch, Passage IV, oil on panel, 18 x 24", 2006

Last week I spent the biggest part of each day painting in what felt like the middle of nowhere (Acadia National Park and Deer Isle in Maine). It is as vivid a hit of nature as one can get on the east coast of the US. This has a way of shaking up you up, very pleasantly too. Thoughts of receipts piled on my messy desk and upcoming committee meetings fall away leaving one feeling they've just awakened into a different world. At such time the thought "This is where we came from" cycles through my mind.

Our earth is some four and a half billion years old. Relatively quickly it spawned simple forms of life. With luck and time these evolved into the plants and animals we see today. It's one heck of a story when you think about it. We humans in a real sense are the eyes and ears through which our mother planet can consider herself. We visual artists have to take care of the "eyes" part.

Turn on the TV or the computer and there's all sorts of distraction and even corporate sponsored misinformation about who we humans are and what we need. I've become fascinated with where we really came from- I want to look back, way back. So for the last decade my own paintings have focused on images of wilderness. To view a really good landscape painting of mountains, forests and oceans is to view our collective origin. It is as if one discovers footprints in the snow and begins to slowly trace them back to where they started.

Will humans ever tire of looking at themselves in the mirror or looking at photographs of themselves? I hope not for answering the question of who we are is so central to leading a meaningful life. Painting images of wilderness gives us another kind of " self portrait." We need all the clues we can get.

Fighting the good fight in Deer Isle, Maine

P.M. Update on the Maine mountain lion sighting question I alluded to in a recent post:

Wikipedia (admittedly not always correct, but intriguing nonetheless) says of mountain lions
" the animal may be recolonizing parts of its former eastern territory, such as Maine, where there has been recent sightings in the southern part of the state."
So maybe, just maybe, what my wife and I saw last week near Deer Island was in fact the fabled beast. Please let it be so as I can't think of a better way to get landscape painter street cred.

Friday, October 2, 2009

More Images from Maine and Mountain Lions

Philip Koch, First Light:Deer Isle, vine charcoal, 7 x 14"

Above is the view from the Pilgrim's Inn where we stayed last week in the tiny village of Deer Isle, Maine. The Inn itself is beautiful but can't hold a candle to its setting on Mill Pond. I arose before dawn one morning and was set up with my easel as the first rays of the sun hit the far shore. Except for the fishermen, no one else is ever around at a time like this. So often the angle of the earliest light combines with the previous night's mist to create something that looks as if it was as if out of a dream. We'll be going back to Deer Isle I am sure for more painting.

When I first arrived and unpacked I realized to my horror I'd left my box of vine charcoal back in my studio in Baltimore. Fortunately we were able to grab a computer and locate an art supply store in Ellsworth, a good hour away. This did nothing to improve my mood, but we blasted off to reach the place just minutes before closing. The good news though is I tried a different brand and and softer grade of vine charcoal than I'd been using and find I like it even better. It is amazingly powdery and rich, and spreads like soft butter. Accidentally forgetting my usual materials proved to be a good thing in the end. It's funny as there is no drawing material more basic than charcoal yet even after using it for 40 years I find I'm still learning how to best use it.

Driving back from Ellsworth both my wife and looked up and saw a very large cat crossing the road. Now I know no one is going to take us seriously, but after comparing images of bobcats, lynx (is that the plural ?), coyotes, and mountain lions, both Alice and I think we saw a moutain lion. I know their existence in Maine is hotly debated. And I also know that my imagination wants it to have been a mountain lion- that has so much more drama and romance. So there's no question it was a mountain lion, ok?

Below is my wife Alice standing in Isalos Fine Art in Stonington, ME, located at the southernmost tip of Deer Isle. Just to Alice's right is my oil painting Rocky Shore,painted up the road a bit in Acadia National Park.

And here below is Michael Daugherty, the owner of Isalos Fine Art posing in the gallery with five of my paintings. Just to the left of Michael's shoulder is an oil I painted in June of last year titled Deer Isle. It's from a cove not far from the gallery.

The gallery is lovely and carries some very strong artists. If anyone is in mid-coast Maine, I'd highly recommend a visit.

After Deer Isle last week we pressed on north to Acadia National Park. I've painted there many times since our honeymoon there in 1982. It has most dramatic coastline anywhere in the Eastern US, with the Appalachian Mountains finally reaching the Atlantic. I can't go there without falling into an earthly reverie. One can imagine with little effort one is seeing the earth as it was very long ago, or as it may be far into the unknown future. Of all the locations I've traveled to work plein air over the last decade, Acadia has been by far the biggest influence.
There is an other worldly magic to it- if a dinosaur walked out from behind one of its moutains I wouldn't be completely surprised.