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.