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.

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