Thursday, October 1, 2009

Working in Maine

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

Above is one of the many vine charcoal drawings I was able to do last week when painting up in Maine. It is from a pond one passes shortly after crossing over the bridge from the mainland. I painted here way back on my honeymoon in 1982 and again several years after that. And now once again, but many years later I came back for another crack at it. Why?

Well, the place sticks in my mind. Can't really say why but when I think about the location I find myself wondering what it looks like right now. Are the three ducks I scared off when I drove up Tuesday morning still there as they were the each time I visited this last week. Are they the owners?

It doesn't really matter why I'm attracted to the place. It is enough that it stirs up my imagination and has provided me material to compose drawings with a way higher than usual batting average. It is a little like bay a mile from my home where I spent some of my happiest boyhood hours, but it is even better. Sort of the way I wish my memories could have been. Maybe that's largely what art is. This drawing is probably going to be the starting point for a new major painting. Next steps will involve trying out various pastel or oil versions at a small scale. The best of those will be a spring board to a major piece.

I was starting to talk in yesterday's post (the one with the title about being trampled by moose herds) about the very real herd of amateur photographers who rushed out from their cars to snap a picture of the sunrise yesterday morning while I was working on a drawing on the summit of Cadillac Mountain. When I want to I can work pretty fast and yesterday I managed to get something mostly completed in just about an hour, maybe even a few minutes less. Well, these photographers had me beat and badly. Most were between 30 to 60 times faster than I was. Not one of them was there longer than five minutes.

If the view was intriguing as the sun rose, did it completely cease to be interesting fine minutes later? And had any of the photographers stayed out there with me, might they have discovered something additional they might have wanted to investigate or savor. Heck there's no film to waist anymore, so why not shoot a couple of dozen exposures and only save the best few?

Our consciousness as humans evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, or longer depending on how you count. We survived and thrived because we were good at looking at things carefully and reflecting on what we saw. We remember images from our past and hold them in mind to compare with what is before us in our present moment. And most of all, we attach intricate and subtle emotions to the pictures in our mind's eye. At out best we chew on the image to extract every once of meaning and flavor. My old Irish Setter mutt Vicki could chew on a the same bone for three days running. Her perseverance amazed me as a boy, but that old girl wasn't going to give up on a bone until she'd exhausted it completely. I think as artists we need to be more like dogs.

Let's face it, we are slow witted beasts we humans. We can make machines that capture images for us in less than a second. But it is in the considering, the selecting, comparing, recalling, and revising that we discover what's of genuine interest and what's just a passing whim.

Vicki the old dog I'm thinking would run a heck of a good painting class. She'd slowly pad her way from easel to easel and counsel each young artist "Slow down, there's still meat on that bone."

A Note on Painting in Maine:

I love freezing my hands off working outside in a cold wind, and then trotting back inside to sit by a warm fire and have someone hand me hot cocoa with those cute little marshmallows in it. So when I go painting in Maine, braving the crazed herds of moose and bald eagle attacks, I try to pick a bed and breakfast where I can recover and gain strength for the next day's paintings. For the last five years or so Alice and I have been staying at Aysgarth Station in Bar Harbor. It's a great little inn run by a delightful couple. But the real reason is they have three cats who have the run of the Inn's yard and first floor. ( I had promised to share images of them with my intrepid readers).

Here's Asticou, taking a drink out of a running fountain in the Inn's dining room. His color is an exact match for a cat I had during my grad school days, so seeing him sends me off on a reverie of the early '70's.

Below is XB, a delicate little female cat. She's getting older now and seems to be willing to accept pets and adulation from admirers that years ago she'd shun. I like to think she's taking a shine to my work.

And last here's Warrick (he's the short one with the leash tied on his collar. The other figure is my wife Alice). Warrick is cross-eyed and remarkably placid. He's either a zen master or perhaps not the sharpest tack in the box- though maybe that's one and the same thing. The Innkeepers tie all three of their cats up in the front yard when they ask to go out. Inevitably they get hopelessly tangled in each others leashes inside of five minutes and stand there pathetically mewing until someone comes and straightens things out again. The process repeats itself again immediately, and so on.

I figure if I keep going back to the Inn and showing the cats my work (so far they've feigned indifference) eventually they'll give me some tips on painting as good as my old dog Vicki. You have to master patience to wait these thing out.


  1. Hello Cats - we remember you well :-)

  2. I am pretty sure Warrick is a "Zen Master." :)

  3. Warrick, a zen master?- no question about it.