Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Old Friend



Philip Koch, After the Storm III, oil on canvas, 45 x 90"
1986

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.

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