Haunted Houses

Philip Koch, Shadows on the House, oil on panel,
9 3/4 x 8 3/4", 1982

This is another painting that's headed to the framer tomorrow morning. It's done plein air in a neighborhood that has always fascinated me near where I live. Called Dixon Hill, it lives up to its name, with some remarkably steep roads that make me glad I don't live there in the winter (unlike New England, where snow clearing is virtually on a military basis, down here in Baltimore I think the city only has 3 snowplows). I grew up in an extremely hilly section of the shoreline of Lake Ontario just outside of Rochester, NY and to me, really meaningful terrain has to have steep rises and valleys. It's a preference that speaks to how I started imagining the world as a little kid that survives to this day.

Dixon Hill is full of homes build long ago as summer homes for the wealthy industrialists of Baltimore who wanted to escape the heat and grime of the city. All the homes are architecturally distinct and all speak of being from another time. I love looking at them. Probably I've painted easily 30 different houses there over the years.

Philip Koch, Houses on the Hill, oil on panel,
14 3/4 x 12", 1983

What's funny is I grew up in a sort of California-modern style house inspired no doubt by Frank Lloyd Wright style buildings. My father scrimped for years to build a dream home and sadly only lived for a few years in it before he died. Shortly after, a new and unwelcome stepfather moved in and made the usually tough teenage years a lot more difficult than they'd have otherwise been. While on some levels I love the house I grew up in , I'd never want to paint similar modern houses. Rather I'm drawn to older buildings that have lived a long life. They have a romance to them, and in what I admit is a childish notion, I usually imagine I'd be happy living in them.

I think the older houses and their grounds have had time to grow into each other in a way modern buildings haven't. What I'm interested in is some sort of resonance between the architecture and nature. Also, the inventiveness of the old architects working within their own traditions very often lends a palpable personality to the old houses. Often they seem a little haunted, though I think happily so.

Houses on the Hill was painted literally from the same spot as Shadows on the House, it being the view right in back of me when I painted the latter. Very often when I've gotten deeply into one painting out on location, another great motif will suggest itself off to the left or right of what I'm working from. I could point to many dozens of my paintings that come in pairs or even triplets from the same location.


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