Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sad Chapter in Edward Hopper Story & New Paintings


Edward Hopper, Gas, oil on canvas

This is another iconic Edward Hopper painting. It evokes the end of day like no other painting. For good reason it's known worldwide.

It's based on two gas stations that stood until recently on Route 6, the main road that runs up the spine of Cape Cod. Hopper used to fill up his old Buick sedan at both of them. Tellingly, the building in painting was based as much on Hopper's invention as on the actual architecture of the old gas stations. The darkening dense woods on either side of the road captures the feeling of Cape Cod's forest perfectly. What's so interesting is how Hopper created such a universal image of the passage of time using the details of a very real piece of landscape, Cape Cod.

Below is the Truro, Massachusetts studio where Hopper painted so many of his most famous paintings.




It is remarkable for its simple understated qualities- so much like Hopper's paintings themselves. Below are the steps leading up to the kitchen entrance to the studio. I took this photo early in the morning as the first sunlight cleared the sand dunes to strike the building (the steps have been replaced since Hopper's day, and the walls around the little deck added).



Turning around here's the view of the steps leading up from the garage. In the distance is the driveway leading out to the "main" road, a bumpy, sandy lane you have to drive over slowly. Route 6 lies just over the trees in the distance.





There was one last stretch of undeveloped land along the shore in Truro. It immediately adjoined the Hopper studio. The property changed hands a few years ago and a dispute arose over the new owners' plans to build a huge mansion on the crest of the sand dune right smack in the middle of the open land. Sadly, so far, the construction has been allowed to happen.

When my wife Alice and I arrived for our most recent residency in the Hopper studio in September, our jaws dropped when we saw the scale of the new building. It dominates what had been a quietly lovely series of rolling sand dunes that led up to Hopper's studio. This was what Hopper saw as he gazed out his studio window as he worked to create his piece of American art history for over 30 years. Those paintings create many of mental pictures all of us use to define our experience. When one thinks of American imagery, well, this is where a lot of it came from.





The new mansion comes complete with a reflecting pool and an arrangement of huge boulders that were being lifted into place by a gigantic construction crane while Alice and I watched. How they managed to get the crane up the access road I can't imagine. According to town records, the structure is to be the largest home in Truro, MA (8,333 square feet).





The whole saga makes me wonder how this piece of land can be used this way. A very big part of what make Truro such a special place on Cape Cod has been taken away. One is free to cannibalize one's past I suppose, but once you do you've lost something irretrievable. There are only a handful of places in America as historic as this Hopper landscape. It's history is our history. It is short sighted in the extreme to cast these things away without realizing what we're losing.

Moving on to happier things...

Yesterday I took twelve paintings in to my framer, many of which I'll be using in my upcoming exhibits in Baltimore at the JLP Gallery (Nov. 8 - Jan. 7) and in Middlebury, Vermont at the Edgewater Gallery (Dec. 1 - 31). Many of them are pieces I've kept unframed in my studio for some time.




Philip Koch, The Hollow, oil, 10 1/2 x 14", 1990.

Above is a plein air oil I painted one morning because I was intrigued by the composition of the trees. A stream at the right tunnels its way under the trees and creates a "keyhole" of an opening in an otherwise solid mass of blue-violet grey branches. If you look closely you'll see a diagonal line links the top edge of that tunnel opening with the top edge of a light grey group of trees in the distance at the left. That's the kind of relationship you sense unconsciously before you understand exactly what it is you're seeing. When I was out that morning looking for what to paint, I just felt there was something "right" about that particular spot. In the course of making the painting I later on discovered some of the compositional magic that had attracted my eye in the first place.



Philip Koch, Green Catamaran, oil, 9 1/2 x 16", 1982

Above is one of the very first paintings I did working from a source that contained really brilliant color. Before this painting I'd always been shy of such chromatic intensities. Sometimes painting things that are outside of your usual box can be a nudge to send you off in a new direction. As I've gradually become more involved with using intense color in my paintings, I can now see this oil was a harbinger of changes yet to come in my work.




Philip Koch, Jones Falls River, oil. 12 x 16", 1985

This one above is the river just down the hill from my house in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Baltimore. I was drawn to the abstraction of shadows and sun on the concrete embankment of the river and wanted that to be the subject. Usually I would have focused instead on the river itself, but here I wanted stretch a little and try something more unusual. The building in the background is the old Maryland Bolt and Nut Company (I love that name) that's now been converted into a Whole Foods Grocery.




Philip Koch, Falls Road Bridge, oil, 8 5/8 x 9 7/8", 2010

This is a view just up the road from the last painting (Falls Road being named for the same river). The painting was begun on a couple of bitterly cold January mornings back in 1982, sitting in the crowded front seat of my van. The rhythm of the concrete bridge was echoed perfectly by the trees at the right. I saw that lovely connection driving over the bridge and made a point of stopping and working right there on the roadside. I went back into the painting just this month to increase the color contrasts a little and give the piece added vitality.


11 comments:

  1. Philip,

    Thanks for sharing more of your work. Color here seems quite a bit more subdued as compared with other/earlier oils such as "The Hollow" (above) and many on your website. Great to see what you've been up to/dreaming/thinking about.

    I recall being stunned by the idea of an 8300 sq ft house in Truro on principle when I first heard about that house and saw in-process photos; NOTHING compares to seeing it in person, even from a distance! How such a building ever got approved (even for a wealthy man) is beyond me—especially when seeing the road all the trucks and materials have to access to get there!! Of course, to see the effect on that amazing landscape is disheartening. I guarantee that if such a structure were there when Hopper was looking for property, he would have continued his search elsewhere.

    PS—On your site I saw an oil named "Stone City Barns." Loved it! Is that the same Stone City as in Grant Wood "territory," in Iowa?

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  2. Hi David, The new building project is completely unjustifiable. As you said so well, if Hopper was arriving now in Truro for the first time he would indeed just keep going to find another place.

    Yes, the source for my oil Stone City Barns is just down the road from the little village of Stone City, Iowa that Grant Wood made famous in his wonderful painting by the same name. Unfortunately the hillside where Wood got his elevated point of view (looking down into the valley of the town) is now covered with tall trees that eclipse the view.

    Still it was great to be able to see where Wood must have stood and to paint in his "neighborhood." I've always thought Wood was a terrific artist.

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  3. Philip,

    I dare say that Hopper would have found a different place than Truro for a multutude of reasons. First and foremost, he would not have been able to afford it. That has been the fact for a good number of years. The outer Cape has gotten extremely expensive and not many artists can afford to buy there, let alone build a simple house and studio. I was fortunate to buy a small run down cottage 15 years ago, so I am able to spend the summer painting at the cape. My home is in a different town on the cape. Even 15 years ago I could no way afford Truro or Provincetown (my favorite landscapes). Much like the Hamptons, the outer cape was somewhat desolute when the artists flocked there. It has been "discovered" for many years now.

    I remember my first impression when I first saw Hoppers house. It was around 20 years ago and I parked at Fisher beach and walked up the beach. As the house came into view, I was very excited. It sat majestically set back, on a dune. My next impression was one of horror, Hopper's house appeared very modest, stark and tied to the land. There were however 2 huge (not 8000 square feet, but very big indeed) houses to the left that dwarfted Hoppers house. They were much farther out on the dune and were not nestled into the landscape as Hoppers house was. Every year I go out to his house and I enjoy the vista by blocking out the houses that surround it.

    You are indeed lucky to be able to inhabit Hopper's house.

    Linda Pochesci

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  4. Philip, it is sad indeed when a part of history
    gets treated as such.
    Many places I enjoyed in my youth have either disappeared or been developed beyound enjoyment.
    Thank God we as artists, can design our paintings to evoke what it could be.

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  5. Linda,

    Where do you guess Hopper would have ended up today if he were searching for a spot for his studio? It's an almost impossible question for me as I have such a hard time separating Hopper from imagery of Cape Cod. They seem almost completely entwined. But surely today's Truro would have been way too expensive for good old Ed.

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  6. Bill- boy do I know what you mean about the places of your youth getting nibbled away by overdevelopment. I remember as a boy thinking my grandmother was awfully negative whenever she was confronted with something new. While I still think she over did it, I'm a bit more sympathetic to where she was coming from these days.

    I love your thought about us artists being able to design our paintings to evoke "what could be" Exactly!

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  7. Philip,

    I have no idea where Hopper would have ended up.....maybe in Maine someplace where it is still pretty undeveloped. I believe where Welliver ended up is still remote and affordable, but I don't know. One thing is for certain, there is no other place like the outer cape. I just wish it was a little less "discovered".

    I remember when the "Hopper Landscape" problem first came up. The Boston Globe had a story on it titled something like "the haves versus the haves more". All the property on that ridge is private property and not in the public trust, therefore you are really only protecting some owners view from someone else's house. I really object to the blight on the view of Hopper's house from the public beach and the building of trophy houses on the cape in general.

    Linda

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  8. I've never been to Cape Cod. Reading this makes me realize I should go there fast, while it still looks somewhat like the image I have of it in my head. It's a small surprise that the entire cape hasn't been filled with buildings and development already, though.

    This is a very interesting blog, by the way. I'm definitely coming back.

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  9. Antti,

    Thanks for your comments about the blog. Much apprreciaded.

    Cape Cod is funny- it's uniqueness is often found in its litte things, like the wierd stunted pine trunks and the marsh grasses. So, though many of the panoramic vistas have been interrupted by over building, there's lots of the "little thiings" stlll there quietly proclaiming themselves. It will be lovely for a long time to come, so you don't have to rush to get there.

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  10. I live in truro, am an artist, and of course a Hopper fan but who isn't? I like your paintings a lot.
    The house is a local disaster for the landscape as well as the owners. The man who built it died during construction leaving an unfinished house, huge bills and apparently no valid permits. It appears the house will have to be taken down or reduced significantly. It's a lovely house really, but not there. Oren Sherman

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  11. Hi Oren- well said. Yes it is a lovely house (the Kline mansion) though a big large for my tastes, but very definitely not there. I hope very much is is removed (and if it is, I am convinced future generations will thank us).

    Was just enjoying looking through your very lovely website.

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