Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Most Important Painting





Winslow Homer, Stowing Sail, watercolor, 1903

What's your first conscious memory?

When I was three my family moved from the house where I spent my first few years. I have a couple dozen images of life in that first house clear in my head. So few memories survive the ravages of time. Maybe the ones that do shine a little brighter as the years march by.

One memory that stands out for me is this painting. A framed reproduction of it hung over our couch in the living room where my sisters and I spent countless hours playing on the floor. I remember staring at it often. It's funny but I thought at the time that I wished the painting was more colorful and that the artist should have provided more details so we would know what was going on in the painting.

Many years later I got to see the original in the Art Institute of Chicago where it lives. While there are other paintings I love more, none have stayed with me quite like this humble little Homer watercolor. Just like you don't choose your parents, early influences stay with you. You have to make the best use of what they offered you, good and bad.

With this particular Homer, I think there was plenty of good. It offers us lots of lessons. One would be just to show how much can be accomplished working primarily in grays. Homer is alleged to have told artists "never paint the sky blue." While he didn't always follow this advice he certainly does here and sounds a beautiful color chord of the warm gray sky against the pale blue waves.

Nobody can paint a figure in the landscape with more authority than Homer. The sailor standing in the skiff has a marvelous rhythm between himself and the mast of the larger boat. Notice that while the man braces himself with legs apart against the skiff's rocking in the waves, the overall axis of his body is at exactly the same diagonal as the lean of the big boat's tall mast.

And a final design idea that I loved as a little kid: the upturned arc of the painted waterline on the transom (the back end) of the large boat merges perfectly with the front of the little skiff. One boat flows effortlessly into the other yet the unique personalities (if one can use that word) of each boat's hull is respected. To this day I can remember sitting on the floor of my childhood home and tracing this movement from one form to another. It intrigued me in a way I then couldn't understand, but I looked at it countless times, trying to make sense of it.

Probably it was my dad who had brought that Homer painting into our house. He had a life long love of the sea and no doubt identified heavily with the man in the skiff. His taste in home decor turned out to be quite a gift to me. Below is my granddaughter Nora who just now is the same age I was when I was first checking out the Homer print in my parent's living room.


Hanging in her living room now is a large oil of mine I gave to my daughter Susan and her new husband Mike as a wedding present. It is The Arrival, oil on panel, 45 x 60". No doubt little Nora has been taking it in with her 3 year old eyes. Probably there are things she likes and no doubt a few suggestions she can make about how it could be better. Wonder what she'll remember about the painting years from now...










Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Great To Have One's Painting Hanging in the Corcoran Museum




Here I am in Washington, D.C. with one of my newest oils, currently hanging in the Corcoran Museum of Art. Oh wait, that was my fantasy speaking. This is actually me with one of my all time favorite paintings, Frederick Church's oil of Niagara Falls. Church is a terrific painter but just to my eye he sometimes gets carried away with telling the viewer a little bit too much information. Not so here. He sticks to water and lots of it. What it remarkable is how solid and flowing the water seems at the same time. If nothing else, the painting is a masterpiece of how beautifully the full range of greens can be used. I am just in awe of what the guy pulled off here.


We had gone down to D.C. to see their soon to close John Singer Sargent show. We weren't disappointed though they didn't allow photography in the Sargent galleries (snarling half-starved Dobermans flanked each painting held by equally surly guards, so I didn't test their resolve on this question). But one was free to photograph the rest of the museum. Sargent it struck me was really really good at seeing things in groups. The fellow has a knack for amazing compositions and a sense of movement we can all learn from.


As they have a fabulous collection, there was lots left to shoot other than the Sargents.




Above is my wife Alice checking out her soul sister in this great Winslow Homer painting. She and I were talking about Homer today and she commented how muscular his paintings were.
She meant that in the sense of their simple bold shapes and dramatic contrasts, as well as the fact his fisherwomen were working women with real physical presence and power. Don't cross one of them or you'd likely end up face down in the wet sand. Of course as well as flexed muscle, Homer had an amazingly sensitive eye for shimmering light and the perfectly placed detail.

Below is a just over-the-top gallery of famous American paintings by some of my favorites. At the right on the bottom row is an Abbott Thayer winterscape of Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. It's got wonderfully varied ideas about what color snow can be. Nearby are goodies by Paxton, Dewing.





And finally here she is with Oscar Bluemner. He's one of her favorite modernists and I can see why. Bluemner always has great tonal contrasts and excellent silhouetted flat shapes to contain his high intensity color. It's a good combination.





Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Creative Insight (It Comes Wrapped in a Soap Bubble).


Philip Koch, Eagle Lake, vine charcoal, 9 x 12", 2009





Philip Koch, Eagle Lake, pastel on artist's sandpaper,
8 x 12", 2009


This pair of drawings comes from a very famous spot in American Art History, the summit of Cadillac Mountain in what is now Acadia National Park in Maine. You could raise a football team from all famous American landscape painters who have stood in this spot to paint the view. Frederick Church and Sanford Gifford just to name two.

The top charcoal was done on location there this last fall. Just below it is one of the pastel drawings I did in the studio to begin my explorations about turning the original idea into a major oil painting. The pastel was begun on a sheet of paper covered with a thin wash of toned-down ultramarine blue acrylic as an underpainting layer. My idea was to let the cool blues show through in the foreground and middle ground and completely cover the sky with a warm, creamy yellow.

As it happened I started the drawing in the sky with yellow pastel, but the first few strokes seemed so bright I decided to immediately go down to the bottom of the paper and work in the closer forms with various greys. That done, I returned to the top intending to finish covering over the blue underpainting. But I stopped. Instead I left the underpainting blue uncovered to form the largest shape in the sky.

What happened was one of those moments when a new, better idea comes over us. I've previously described this as like hearing a little voice in my inner ear. But of course there isn't an actual sound. This time around I had a somewhat different sensation as if I could see a new idea floating into view. It approached almost imperceptibly in the manner that a child's soap bubble may sometimes take flight and appear where you least expect it. As a former child who excelled in blowing bubbles, I like this second analogy.

As kids we used to try to blow the biggest bubble we could and then catch them in our hands. With practice at getting a light touch, it was sometimes possible to get the fragile things to alight in hand and to carry the bubble for a least a few steps before it would shatter.

We artists need to "catch" good ideas when the occur to us. But we have to better the awkward attempts of a child to catch and hold them like a soap bubble. New ideas almost always come to us half-formed, as if they are struggling to exist at all. Somehow we have to quickly identify the ones that have the real deal of promise, catch them, and then slowly build them into something of substance. A quality of real tenderness and patience on our parts is involved here, something you never hear spoken of in art schools and universities. But we don't blush at the thought as we're too drawn to the glow of new possibility in this bubble-like new insight. To handle the soap bubble you need very soft hands and very thin skin.

A curious thing creativity. Without a dogged will power an artist gets nowhere. The world is all too happy to pour cold water over our dreams. Yet right next to that steely will has to lie the complete opposite- a willingness to let ourselves be at least temporarily distracted by new thoughts, of changing direction, of finding the gold dust under a pile of straw.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter: Nature Is Bigger Than We Are!


Rockwell Kent, The Trapper, oil, 1920's

Here's a painting by one of my favorite artists, Rockwell Kent. Partly I like him because he makes me feel so at home. For all of us that means different things, but when I cast my eye back in time to childhood I think of winter and deep snow. My father always wanted to live in the woods and eventually got enough money together to design and build a house on a steep hillside by the south shore of Lake Ontario near Rochester in the town of Webster. I was an impressionable 4 when we moved in, in the snow, in 1952.

The property had to be reached by a long sloping driveway with the house at the bottom. Even though we hired a man with a plow to clear us out after major snows, he just would do a rudimentary once over leaving lots of white stuff to deal with. If you didn't get out there and shovel it almost bare, even with a running start from the dry garage, you weren't going to make it up the hill.

Needless to say, all of us did a lot of shoveling, including the three children. It was kind of fun except when the wind blew in from the Lake as it usually did. But it kept you warm to keep moving and since we weren't going anywhere until the road was cleared, we didn't complain much. The deep woods after a heavy snow is a sight to behold. It is unbelievably clean and as the snow is so soft and sound absorbent, incredibly quiet. Everything stops when it snows like that. You have no choice but to stand and look around at the transformation of your once familiar surroundings.

Little children are by nature ego centric. They have to be. But witnessing heavy northern snows gave me the unmistakeable lesson that nature was much bigger than I was and far more powerful. You developed a healthy respect and, when she showed her beautiful side, an awe for her artistry.

I remember reading a passage in one of John Irving's earlier novels where he spoke of how often memories of childhood fertilize the best writing. He observed that for any specific memory to persist in one's mind for decades it had to be stated and vivid to begin with. I think he was on to something. So much of the art I admire has this childhood memory ingredient. In many ways most of the painting I've done over the last four decades has been a reverie on growing up in the woods by the Great Lake. And when I've traveled to landscapes far removed from what I knew as a boy, such as a painting trip to Tucson, AZ, I've found the terrain almost too "foreign" to paint.

One of the things my father did every morning before leaving for work was to, without fail, put new birdseed on the bird feeder he'd built outside our kitchen window. Well, I do the same.Wanting to share the spectacle, I placed a cast iron rabbit (who the family affectionately knows as "Bob the Rabbit") in my front yard in Baltimore facing my bird feeder. Standing tall at 12 inches, he's cuts an impressive figure. And he's worked out a good relationship with our local bird population. Here he is watching our avian friends as the snow piled up today.




"Bob the Rabbit" at 11 a.m.




Bob holding his post at 1 p.m.




Bob still on duty at 2 p.m.




Bob snugly napping under his white comforter at 4 p.m.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Celebrating Winter and Some Personal History





This is a wonderful little oil by the Canadian painter Lawren Harris from the earlier part of the 20th century. He's a fantastic painter and it is a shame he's so little known in the United States. Working at the same time as the American artists Rockwell Kent and Grant Wood, he shared their ability to see the geometric forms in nature and celebrate them while still bathing them in brilliant sunlight. It is a painting about the visual delight that winter brings. As I write this our first major snowstorm in years is sweeping into the Mid Atlantic where I live. Like Lawren Harris, I grew up in the North and love the look and feel of winter, so this seems a perfect image to open with.

Celebrating. Well, I am tonight. This morning I finished packing up four big wooden crates with 22 paintings just as the shipper's truck pulled up. Crating large oil paintings and lots of works on paper under fragile glass so they can make the trip safely is no small thing. I'm delighted to be finished with the job so I can get back to my easel and work on new paintings again.

Here's one of the smaller crates being loaded on their truck by the two guys who work for the company. The work is headed all the way across the country to the Clymer Museum of Art in Ellensburg, Washington at the edge of the Cascade Mountains. They have winter there, big time. This show is part of the national tour of the Unbroken Thread: Nature Paintings and the American Imagination exhibition organized by the University of Maryland University College.



Years before the Clymer Museum of Art was founded, I lived in Ellensburg for one year right after my painting graduate school experience at Indiana University. It proved a difficult time in my life. Grad school was the first time I got to work at length with really good painters as my teachers for an extended time. I had learned a lot and had made some solid friendships there. I was sad to leave the supportive embrace of the school to take a job teaching painting at what is now Central Washington University. I was though delighted to have landed a job teaching art three days a week that paid enough to live on. I was getting too old to be a student anyway, so off I went.

It's a funny story. Apparently one of the people who had taught painting at the University had been caught having faked his credentials. A long and drawn out battle was fought over whether to fire him or not. Bitter recriminations abounded. He eventually was told to leave, but not before all the faculty in the art department had had their feelings hurt so badly in the faculty brawl that they had all pretty much stopped speaking to each other. I was hired long distance to come to Ellensburg to teach painting but had no clue what sort of environment I was parachuting into.

Fresh from the warm and supportive environment of my MFA painting program I was totally unprepared for the reception that awaited me. I found no one at the new University wanted to even talk to me. Ignorant of the just concluded battle over firing my predecessor, I immediately decided they didn't like me. It took months before I realized that it wasn't just me that the other faculty were avoiding, nobody was talking to anybody else either. This was a big life lesson about how first impressions can sometimes be deadly wrong.

Plus as any new teacher has too, I had to begin the long trial and error journey of learning how to become a teacher of art. It isn't as easy as people imagine it, and I made more than my share of mistakes. I left after that first very difficult year to come back East to teach at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, where I still live and paint. To be honest, I left Ellensburg with a sign of relief. A new beginning was what seemed called for and in truth, Baltimore provided exactly that. The year in Ellensburg had carried for me some disappointments on both professional and personal levels. Never did I think I would see the place again.

Now I'm going back to Ellensburg in February for a gala opening reception at the Clymer Museum on the 5th. My wife Alice who had only heard about the place in my stories is going to come along so I can show her a piece of the puzzle of my life before I met her. It's a happier state of mind that I'm carrying with me as I return to the little town than when I left all those years ago, so I feel like celebrating.

Here's the exhibition announcement card for the Clymer Museum show that arrived just this morning. All invited. Happy winter everyone!



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

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.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Working Alone and Working With Other Artists


Above is Clifford, my daughter's cat who I wrote about in the previous post "How Do You Know What to Paint?" Shortly after I took this photo he scratched my hand deeply and now I'm sporting a bandage. Would someone remind me what it is I see in these animals?


Was reading Stapleton Kearns' blog this morning. Couldn't agree more with his advice advice to get out there and rub shoulders with other artists. I'm always amazed when I stumble across a new good idea from someone else that I hadn't thought of it before myself. Nowadays one of my personal adages is "Nothing is obvious until you notice it."

There is a tricky balance to being an artist. We have a contradictory need for both contact with others and for solitude in the studio or out painting in the field. I often think about this on my many days where I'm alone painting for hours on end. It can be lonely sometimes, but I'm convinced that's one of the prices we have to pay to really get any momentum going in our painting. Really good ideas don't usually come in and announce themselves with trumpets blaring. Rather they start out giving you little hints and the briefest glimpse out of the corner of your eye about what might be possible. When you work alone without distraction your ear gets attuned to the subtle whisperings that come to you from your inner creative side. Our "muse" is shy and fickle, but she will sooner or later come and visit us in our studio and give us great ideas. When she does, we better give her our full attention. She hates to have to repeat herself.

Like anything else, a steady diet of solitude is too tough on one. None of us is so wise that we can't learn from others. Every artist needs to get out and see what other artists are doing, listen to them, trade jokes with them and simply enjoy their company. Looking back at my own life as a painter, I realize some of my best ideas came to me from unexpected people. I discovered soft pastel chalks for example from watching some of my drawing class students who insisted on working in color. I had at first resisted this as they still had so much to learn about seeing shapes and tones.Yet going through their portfolios at the end of the semester I was amazed at how often I was saying to myself " oh gosh there's a color I could use in my painting."


On Thursday I took a break from my final portfolio reviews for my Life Drawing Class at MICA and went to the end of semester show/reception the school has for its upper class General Fine Arts majors. Each student had about 10' of space to display their latest creations. Everyone went around and checked everyone else's work out. Probably 25% was really good, another 25% needed a lot more time and development, and the rest fell somewhere in the middle. While it partly resembled a madhouse, it was a chance for everyone to see and learn and most of all make up their own minds about what is the right path for
them.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How Do You Know What to Paint?



Philip Koch, Warmth of the Spring, oil on canvas,
42 x 63", 1991

I've been asked many times how I pick my ideas for paintings. Here's part of an answer.

This is a scene that still exists but you can't see anymore. It's a house and garage about a mile from my house in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Baltimore where I've done so many paintings over the years. Just a few years after I completed the piece I drove by just to take a look at the source once again and found it completely hidden by the saplings and brush reclaiming the front yard. I love that.

What first caught my eye when I discovered the place were the scalloped edges of the eaves of the house on the right. Probably when the house was first built, they looked almost too cute like an over-decorated gingerbread house. But as the surrounding forest reasserted itself, it lent credibility to the scene. After all, Hansel and Gretel found the gingerbread house deep in the forest where perhaps all sorts of magic things are possible.

Why was I drawn to paint this place in the first place? Honestly it is very difficult to put into words. I find some places make me feel both comfortable and excited at the same time, and I like to paint such places. I know that's not much help towards clarifying the issue. But the biggest part of these decisions of what makes for art and what doesn't probably happens in our unconscious minds. How a place makes you feel, to an artist, might be the most important fact of all. Sure it may leave much unexplained but we have to live with that mystery.

Later today my daughter's cat Clifford is coming to stay with us for a few days. From his many years of previous visits, I know ahead of time exactly where Clifford will plant himself in our house. He has favorite chairs to sleep on and specially selected spots of the floor reserved just for him to sit on. How did he make these choices? Who knows beyond saying he's responding to some deeply buried animal instinct. Clifford is an old and most stubborn of cats with profoundly specific preferences. After he leaves I know ahead of time that only one of the six chairs around my dining room table will need vacuuming. And I know which chair its going to be.

Artists aren't so different from cats. Maybe we're just people who for some reason listen to our instincts a little more closely than normal people. When we let the right instinct guide us, some remarkable things are possible.

For you cat people out there, I'll post a photo of the Clifford in a subsequent post.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

" 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.







Saturday, December 5, 2009

Beavers, Artists and Computers


Philip Koch, Beaver Dam, oil on canvas
48 x 36", 1985, collection Ruth and Frank
Yoash-Ganz, Davidson, NC

More trolling through my older paintings as I scan the bin of slides from my studio.

This was painted from on oil study I did up in Norfolk, CT in the extreme northwest corner of Connecticut where the hills begin ramping up enough to be called mountains. Like so much of New England, the forests have reclaimed most of the abandoned farm fields so when looking for places to paint one's eye is caught by beaver ponds. For just this reason, I've painted lots of these remarkable natural clearings.

With this one the beaver had used the trunk of an old oak to anchor one side of their dam. It looked plenty sturdy. I loved the way the big trunk leaned to the left at exactly a right angle to the largest branch in the beaver's dam. It almost felt like a piece of installation art where the beaver was saying his dam seamlessly joined with the forest from which it was made. The irony is that beaver, while not worrying about aesthetics, end up producing some of the most beautiful constructions we've ever seen.

As a child I remember having my mind blown away when I learned that birds and beaver build nests and dams using mostly just their mouths. Sure, beaver do use their front paws to push sticks around, but that hardly seems like much of an advantage. And they do these intricate constructions without going to school. Even now when I think about it it seems a little impossible. Somewhere deep in a beaver's brain a movie must be playing with dramatic footage of beavers building perfect dams. Maybe inspirational music swells at the end as the water rises in their newly built pond.

I'm using a new slide scanner at my art school, MICA in Baltimore. I asked one of the students who works at our tech Help Desk to show me the ins and out of this particular scanner. He was great, very helpful and obviously knew his stuff. We got to talking and not surprisingly, he does all his own art with digital media and photography. I wonder if I was just starting out today as a young artist if I'd be lured into digital media instead of making drawings with little burned sticks of wood and painting with colored mud. I'm looking at one of my brushes as I write this and thinking its technology (tying some stiff hair to a stick) hasn't changed in thousands of years.

The answer, I think, is that I would still stick it out with charcoal, oil paint, and hog bristle brushes. There is a romance and drama it holding these materials in your hand. They have a weight and texture to them. And when you have a good day in the studio you can utterly transform these most simple of materials into something completely other than what they were. Grey pigment can become a oat tree, a slab of limestone, or the face of moon. It's all in how the artist arranges the notes they are playing.

Thinking about the furry wet animals that dam up streams I feel I've met some kindred spirits. If beaver were give bulldozers and cordless drills to build their dams I don't think their results would still have the same magic. There is a something out of nothing performance to the beaver's artistry. I think early humans much have marveled at what they saw in this damp little rodent. And it no doubt stirred the early human imagination to move toward architectural feats of our own.



Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Edward Hopper's Kitchen



Philip Koch, Edward Hopper's Studio Kitchen, oil on panel,
15 x 20", 1997

I've been scanning slides of my older paintings again to save them as digital files (kicking and screaming, I'm being dragged into the present day...). Here's one I scanned yesterday of a favorite painting done on my French easel in the kitchen of Edward Hopper's old painting studio in Truro, MA, on Cape Cod. It was done on one of the recurring residencies I've enjoyed in the place. Spending time there you discover little truths about this formidable painter.

One extravagance of the studio is it has the absolute maximum possible number of windows facing out in all directions. All provide an unobstructed view of the hump shaped dunes and the Cape Cod sky. Standing in the studio you have the feeling it is a sort of observatory for the Cape's legendary light. It literally catches both the first and last rays of each day's sunlight. And the light through the open kitchen door is the engine of contrast that makes my painting happen.

Some weeks ago I did a post showing a pastel drawing I did after this oil of the kitchen table at the left. It too featured a bunch of bananas. The bananas provided an elegant arcing shape to accompany the arc on the back of the wooden chair. And they provided relief from all the straight edges in the doorway and windows- the viewer's eye needs that.

At the time I commented on how humorously small the kitchen and its furniture were for as tall a person as Hopper. He consciously chose a tiny kitchen, bathroom and bedroom to allow the maximum space for his painting room. That, with its 10 foot tall north facing studio window can only be described as grand, though in a characteristically modest Hopper sort of way. It just shows the high priority Hopper put on his painting. It must have been a hoot to watch him eat his morning Wheaties at his mini-breakfast table.

The bananas have acquired cult-like status in my family. We had purchased them for our morning cereal but were only able to find very green ones. No worry, we thought, simply place them in the sun for a day and they'll ripen right up. Except they didn't. We kept them for a week and then just out of curiosity drove home from Cape Cod to my Baltimore studio with them. Still bright green.After another week of patiently waiting the still green bananas started to rot. I briefly entertained the thought of mailing them in a box to the Chiquita Company Headquarters but let it go. Still, I wonder if maybe I should have sprayed them with plastic when they were at their prime and used them as a hood ornament on my minivan.