A House is a Giant Still Life

Philip Koch, Third Story, oil on canvas, 42 x 63", 1985

I've always been fascinated by old houses, at least the ones that have survived into my time. So many of them have all this extra architectural adornment. Most of it is done inventively and sensitively. Granted these weren't built for the poorest people, but even so it seems the extra expense of seriously decorating the houses was considered necessary. Compare that to the stark box-like constructions that comprise most of our contemporary architecture like your local Target store. Will people in the distant future look back at our time and think "god, what a bunch of dullards they were in the 21st century."

This is a house from near my home in Baltimore that honestly always creeped me out a little. It's one of the most ornate around and had been painted with a strange cool green. I imagined the Adams Family takes rooms in it when they're in town.

Painting architecture is much like painting still lives. The two kinds of subjects offer a similar complexity of rhythms and intervals. But for me painting these "giant still lives" outdoors give you the added excitement of dealing with fast changing lights and shadows that you rarely see in still life arrangements. As a teaching exercise there is nothing like it. My practice with these paintings was to begin with a plein air version that was around 14 x 21' and to work on location for no more that two hours at a stretch when the light was right. With subjects as involved as this house that would mean returning again at least two or three more times to nail down enough of the basic information.

Of course weather rarely cooperated, so it could take weeks of waiting until you'd have the requisite three or four mornings of clear weather. I'm not by nature a patient person (just ask my wife Alice) but landscape work has taught me how to at least act patient despite how I might be feeling on the inside. Sometimes pretending can be very useful to an artist.


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