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.


  1. i always just end up 'cannibalizing' my old paintings. i typically paint over them, but feel like there is a history hidden under the surface and i like that.

    maybe it would be healthier to resolve them though? food for thought.

  2. Oh I do a fair share of cannibalizing too. The trick is to know which ones to paint over and which ones will yield up a solution if given enough time. Come to think about it, a lot of human relationships present the same dilemma.


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