The Puritans, Stolen Corn, and Using Color

Philip Koch, The Return, vine charcoal, 9 x 12", 1998

Philip Koch, The Return, pastel, 9 x 12, 1998

This is my post Thanksgiving post.

There's a famous landmark in Truro, MA on Cape Cod Bay named Corn Hill. The Puritans arrived there from England with their ship's stores badly depleted. Before heading on to Plymouth, MA they went ashore and stumbled into the local Native American's store of corn. Declaring this a gift of Providence (they literally did) they then took the corn for themselves and shortly after headed to the mainland to enjoy further calamities.

The name Corn Hill stuck. When I first started having residencies in Edward Hopper's Truro painting studio, I of course started checking out all the sources in the area he painted from. His eye was so sharp you'd be crazy not to. Hopper did a fabulous watercolor or two of the houses on the steep slope of the famous hill. From near the top you can look south and see this marvelous view. A tributary of the Pamet River does several world class "s" curves for you before emptying into Pamet Harbor in the distance.

When I was first experimenting with working in pastels I did the above color version from the vine charcoal drawing I'd done at the location. As it was an early foray in the new to me medium, my color goals were modest, mostly just to work with the pattern of tones that I'd had such good luck with in the vine charcoal drawing. I think it worked out pretty well.

In our time there's a notion that hues need to stand alone, independent of a dark and light structure. It is claimed that hue alone creates its own special kind of space. While this is half true, I learned long ago that tonalities (which is my term for gradations of black, white, and greys) have an unmatched subtle magic in them. Hues love to work with darks and lights. I first organize around tonalities and silhouettes, and only then entertain dancing with all the many hues available.

Even the great 20th century colorist Matisse insisted on this. Once when he was asked by a young painter how he could learn to use color as Matisse did, the crusty French master replied the young artist should go to the Louvre and spend two full years copying the works of the Great Masters in charcoal. Honestly, that course of study would rock.


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