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Showing posts from March, 2010

Discovering the Secret of Art

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There really is a secret of art. In fact there's a bunch of 'em. Trouble is they have a slippery habit of disappearing from your mind like misplaced little gems. All of us have to re-discover them. I just rediscovered one of them the other day and want to tell you about it.
Years ago I came to a crisis in my Freshman year at Oberlin College. I'd been planning to become a sociology major and was hip deep in the middle of writing my first 20 page sociology paper. It hadn't been going well and one evening, in complete disgust, I threw down my pen and stomped off to the movies. I'd never gone to the theater alone before so it felt odd as I walked up to the little one screen theater in the town. As it turned out, they were showing a film where Charlton Heston played Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
As you might guess from that casting choice, it wasn't the most sensitive films on the question of how artists invent their art. At the film's climax,…

A Peek Behind the Studio Curtain

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I've always enjoyed other people. But as the years go by, I seem to be getting more and more private when it comes to working in my studio. Partly I believe this is because I'm realizing how incredibly difficult it is to paint something with any sort of genuine and original vision.
A quiet place free of all distractions helps stack the deck in my favor. Corot, the amazing 19th century French painter once likened the difficulty of painting to that of carrying a soap bubble in one's hand. He was onto something. Before you've given the image solid form it exists only as a whisper or a hope in your imagination. It's fragile. That's the incredible beauty of it when an artist pulls it off successfully.
Here's a peek at some of the things I've been working on this last couple of weeks. Above is the pastel drawing I did from my imagination of the Porcupine Islands up in Acadia National Park in Maine. I've had this image stuck in my memory of the time years ag…

A Little Gem

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This is the view standing in the old masters gallery at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland. It's just west of the first long string of mountains you hit as you travel in from the coast near Washington, DC and Baltimore. Because of this geography, it was right on the route the Confederate Army took heading to and retreating from Gettysburg during the Civil War. Apparently Lee's army camped on the grounds where the Museum is now located. Dripping with history, the setting is also very beautiful.
I attended the Members Annual Meeting today at the Museum. Had the chance to meet the President of the Board of Trustees, Tom Newcomer. He's an energetic supporter of the Museum and proved an engaging speaker as he chaired the meeting. Here he is framed by the work from the local Valley Art Association now hanging in one of the galleries.




In addition to displaying the work of famous artists, the Museum has a long and commendable history of exhibiting the …

Inner Sanctum

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Philip Koch's crank-adjustable studio easel.

My studio. It's the place where I do my cooking. Like any cook, I have my favorite implements. I like to think we painters work with a little more vision and imagination than chefs (revealing my bias here, but heck, I'm a painter). The thing is about a painter's imagination- it can only be made visible by working through one's tools and materials. You can't impose your will on the painting. Instead you have to craft it into being. Here are a few tools that have made all the difference to me.
I spend enormous amounts of time, standing at this easel. I got into the habit of standing to paint in an interesting way. Years ago when I first started doing landscape paintings outside, I didn't have an easel. Instead I'd sit on the ground (tough in winter, trust me) and prop my canvas up against the back of my wooden paintbox that opened like a suitcase. It all worked reasonably well for a few years. Then I got a job t…

Why Art Matters

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Why do we bother with art?
My short answer: it is tool to make us feel better.
In everyone's life there are a few moments in any given week when experience becomes exceptional. The usual cloud of preoccupations, anxieties, and general confusion are swept away by a new perception. A snatch of music, an unexpected scent, or the glow of sunlight on a courtyard wall reaches deep within us and sounds a new chord. For a brief moment a sensation of well being, excitement and good old fashioned delight takes a hold of us. These moments are the exceptional times in our lives, but they are among the most real things that happen to us. Sometimes we know for a least a moment that our life is deep, real, and utterly worthwhile.
Artists have a dicey job. We try to grab a hold of those extraordinary moments and turn them into something you can hold onto. We create paintings, sculptures, or music that remind people of those times when they have seen and felt most deeply.
One of the reasons I'm s…

Drawings at the Academy Art Museum in Maryland

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Took a trip to visit one of my favorite regional art museums yesterday, the Academy Art Museum, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the town of Easton. I've watched the Museum grow since the early 1970's when two of its earliest directors were my friends the painters Henry Coe and Rob Seyfert. But much has changed since those days when it was really more of a community art center. It has undergone a couple of significant renovations and expansions from its original schoolhouse (or was it perhaps a church?) beginnings. And it went about acquiring a significant Permanent Collection. A lot of that growth happened during the long tenure of Chris Brownawell as Director. Chris just moved to Maine to head up the Farnsworth Art Museum, another real gem of an East Coast art museum. We hope he took his mittens along with him.
If you're anywhere near Easton, MD the Academy Museum is a worth a detour to visit. It is perhaps my all time favorite conversion on an old building to house a…

Avatar Film and Landscape Painting

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I finally got around to seeing the film Avataor, mostly because my son-in-law Mike Hughes liked it so much. So much of what Hollywood produces seems to achieve the sensitivity of a McDonld's commercial. This time though, I think some poetry must have slipped in the backdoor of the movie studios. For anyone who takes pleasure in the look and feel of the world, I think this is a hard movie not to like. For landscape painters like myself, I found it extremely engaging.
All of us have our emotions and our senses stimulated by our surroundings. Here's a fable about a fictional planet where all the flora and fauna are linked together into an all encompassing awareness. The Na'avi, who "people" the planet connect to their environment in a way we can only dream about.



Philip Koch, The Violet Whisper, oil on canvas, 30 x 40"
For me when a painting is truly good, it has a transparency to its feeling. There is an intensity to its surfaces, its light and its depths that…