Why Titles Matter

Philip Koch, The Arrival, oil on panel, 45 x 60", 2004
Collection of Susan and Michael Hughes, Baltimore, MD

When I married Alice in 1982 we went on a honeymoon to Acadia National Park in Maine. As most newlywed couples do, we spent the time working on paintings.

The title of a painting used to matter much less to me years ago when I got most of my ideas for paintings marching around with my portable easel. Simple descriptors like "Three Pines Near the Highway" served me just fine.

Over time though I had grown fascinated with using the image of the landscape in a more mythical fashion. Often now I think of my paintings showing a glimpse of a world that exists long before or long after our present time. Maybe they exist outside of time altogether. They come about after engaging in a long, elaborate daydream. My job as the artist is to make that gel into a mental image with actual solid form and real spaces. It's not easy.

What helps me is imagining every possible aspect of the image I'm trying to create- is it warm or cold there? Is the wind blowing? Time of day and time of year? And naturally what words would I use to summarize all my thinking. It's strange, but coming up with just the right title seems to now to have to happen before I can complete the painting. It's sort of a key completing the visualization process.

This painting, The Arrival, summed up a feeling I had at the time that things were coming to a new plateau- that many threads in my work of the previous years were coalescing to allow me to make a more unique kind of painting. Discovering Maine was part of it. And also finding I could be happy creating work once again entirely out of my imagination. It was when I put this thought into words that I was finally able to realize the painting in a complete, successful way.

We are always coming to a new place in our lives. But at certain junctures this fact impresses itself upon ourselves in dramatic ways. So to me The Arrival is about just such a moment of recognition in my own life. It says in its way " I haven't been here before, but this new place is ripe with possibilities." Isn't that what any of us want from art, and from our lives.


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