" Whispered Promises and the Change in the Light"

Philip Koch, State Road, oil on panel, 20 x 30", 1989

More scans of slides from the not so distant past. I'm encountering paintings I haven't seen in some time and am really enjoying them as old friends. The title of this post is a line from an old Jackson Browne song. It is something of a theme song of painting.

Oil painting is a slow process. That is one of its strengths. It teaches you patience- to wait and keep looking for something special to reveal itself. The longer I paint (or live for that matter) the more I value timing and pacing of oneself. Both art and life are tricky, and the headlong rush of wanting to complete something sometimes needs to be held in check. We prepare with some judicious watching and waiting until the time is just right. Especially us landscape painters, the chroniclers of the changing lights of day.

Awhile back I got into driving from Baltimore across the Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It is a flat as a pancake there. What drama there is comes from wide open vistas contrasting the dense stands of pine they have there. It is a landscape that forces an awareness of the skies on you.

It is funny but the painting trips I've taken to this area taught me something about myself I hadn't realized. The week I turned four my parents moved the family into the new house they had had built on a steep hillside on the shore of Lake Ontario just outside of Rochester, NY. The whole neighborhood was hills and valleys. Even now if the ground under my feet isn't sloping it doesn't feel quite natural. Also, Rochester is way north and with that came long cast shadows, all year really, but especially in the winter. To me, there is nothing more beautiful. How artists paint in a place like Tucson I'll never understand.

If you keep your eyes open, even the most level and tame of landscapes can yield up treasure. On this particular trip I had begun another canvas in the morning and then gone inside to warm up from the blustery January wind. More important still, I knew the sun was so high overhead that the winter shadows were at their weakest. Better to wait a while. After lunch, fortified and warm, I went back out and drove the back roads hoping something would call out to me. Sure enough, it did. One particularly dense group of pines at the left offered up some unexpected possibilities.

By a little after 2 in the afternoon the winter sun had sunk low enough that it was only highlighting a few of the tree branches at the left. These sketched a downward sloping diagonal that seemed to repeat three times, like a well-rehearsed corps de ballet. It formed the perfect foil for the ever so different open fields at the right side of the painting. Finally stitching it all together were the cranking dark shadows spreading farther and farther to the right as I watched the sun sink lower.

In January you can't paint outside much past 4 o'clock. After that the sunlight gets so gold colored and all the shadows start to look too dark and opaque. I did this oil in two afternood sessions that felt like high-speed chases after the changing light.


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