This is my studio this morning.
Late yesterday the four heavy wooden crates came home carrying my paintings from my national traveling exhibition Unbroken Thread: The Art of Philip Koch. These same crates carried the show out to Washington State to the Clylmer Museum of Art in Ellensburg early this year and then traveled to Indiana for the Midwest Museum of American Art's installment of the show this June. They'll be staying home until next summer when they'll take the show down to a beautiful non-collecting art museum, the Peninsula Fine Art Center in Newport News, Virginia.
My wife Alice and I drove down to see the museum and talk with it's Curator, Michael Preble, last May. We liked what we found very much and are excited to show there next summer.
I learned long ago that sending one's art out of town was both a lot of work and totally worth the effort. Art is first of all a communication. Art isn't just the airing of someone's idiosyncrasies. It uses the visual language to move the emotions of the viewer. The artist is reaching out from the confines his or her studio to affect someone else who may be at a great distance, or even from a different time.
Here I am below standing last weekend with the amazingly soulful self portrait by Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art. It has traveled thousands of miles since it was painted long ago. Thought I don't know the history of this particular painting, you can bet Rembrandt built a lot of sturdy wooden crates and packed them lovingly in his day. He was proud of what he'd accomplished and was eager to share it with the world.
Having an exhibition at a museum or gallery is in a way the artist's gift to the world. But in return it gives something back to the artist. There is nothing like seeing the paintings you've labored on for months in the privacy of your studio hanging in somebody else's space. Your painting just look different. One of the great challenges for a painter is to hold onto your objectivity as you work the long hours it takes to make your paintings achieve the look you're after. This is almost impossible to do.
Every artist has a bag full of tricks to help themselves see with a fresh eye. My personal arsenal includes looking at the paintings upside down, studying them in a mirror, viewing them under very low light, including almost absolute darkness, and finally looking at tiny images of them on my computer monitor. When I'm really stuck I ask my wife for advice.
I had my very first exhibition my senior year at Oberlin College. I was amazed how much I learned about my work seeing it hung up in the corridor of the school's student union- both things I liked and flaws in the paintings I was eager to correct once the show came down. The same thing happened at my final MFA Thesis exhibition at the Indiana University Art Museum in 1972.
Since then I've made a point of getting my work out of the studio as much as I can. Having shows has taught me more about where I need to go next with my art than any other single thing I do. Painting is hard work and safely shipping your work great distances is hard too. Rembrandt didn't shrink from that task. Neither can we.