Why Artists Are the Best Cooks

Philip Koch, Passage II, oil on canvas, 36 x 48"

Here's a painting I like a lot. It's an imagined place that draws heavily on my memories of Lake Champlain, the Maine coast, and my old Boy Scout camp in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State near Tupper Lake. Nature flexes her muscles up there in the North, but she always keeps a charming twinkle in her eye too.

I was looking at a recent photo of my grand daughters at a friend's birthday party. Nora, the four year old, is happily wolfing down a huge piece of sugary birthday cake. Remember when you were that age? Sugar was bliss and more sugar could send you to an even greater heaven.

As you grow older your taste buds change, but I think those old appetites endure.

I was putting a second coat of hot rabbit skin glue solution on a newly stretched linen canvas this morning and suddenly found myself thinking about Hershey's chocolate bars. Looking down I realized the wet glue turned the linen just that old enticing shade of brown that Hershey's used on their wrapper.

It gets worse. Once the glue dried I put on a layer of the thick oil ground, spreading it carefully out with a palatte knife until it was smooth and even. It looks like nothing so much as gooey cake frosting, only heavier and richer. If you could eat this stuff (you can't) you die happy I'm convinced.

Oil paints are toxic of course and I really don't eat them, ever. But I think about it. Eating and tasting are things we humans just do with little worry about having any theoretical context. If it tastes good, we swallow effortlessly. I think that in many ways, that unmeditated frame of mind is closer to what an artist has to do with his or her eyes than anything else. Can you adequately describe the flavor of your favorite cheese or wine in mere words? But I doubt you let that stop you from enjoying them. So too with visual art- it's first of all an experience rather than an idea.

Here's a painting I recently scanned from an old 35 mm slide. It's now in the Permanent Collection of the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, OH. It was based on a plein air oil study I did on my first trip to go painting in Maine on my honeymoon with Alice in 1982. It's from a grove of young birch trees up in Acadia National Park. Near where I had set up my easel, a beaver pond was surrounded by the stumps of dozens of birch trees gnawed through by hungry beaver. These animals are smart. They know the proof is in the tasting. With that in mind, I mixed up my colors and went at those birches.

Philip Koch, Shadow Birches, oil on canvas, 36 x 54", 1995


  1. I love these paintings, Passage is especially rich and has a real northern feel. I like the birches too, they reminded me of spending 2 weeks in Acadia in '98 . The birches were beautiful and I couldn't resist painting them either!

  2. Thanks for your kind words Kathy. I see you have painted in a whole bunch of interesting places, all over.


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