Monday, March 14, 2011

A Memorial


Philip Koch, Asgaard oil on panel, 12 x 12", 2011

Here's a new small oil I just finished painting last evening. This is one of those out-of-my-head compositions that summarize a host of memories and emotions. I used to live out in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. They're huge, snow covered for many months, and have improbablely sharp pointed silhouettes. When I lived out there I was deeply involved in my enthusiasm for the East Coast mountains that had fascinated my favorite 19th century painters. Those eastern mountains were forested, rounder, and a little restrained. The Cascades seemed almost like a stage set or an invention from the Disney studios- I just didn't know how to deal with them back then. And there was something else too. For reasons I didn't understand then, the snow covered Cascades, beautiful as they were, left me feeling uncomfortable and lonely. 

Years later I started looking more at Rockwell Kent's work, especially his wonderful engravings that illustrate his book N by E. In his work I found an artist's vision that could encompase sharp and imposing peaks. I had them in the back of my mind while I worked up this new oil.

Kent was a voracious reader and enthusiast of all sorts of culures. He named his final home in the Adirondack Mountains of New York Asgaard Farm.  Asgaard is the mythic home of the Norse gods. 
I worked in a Boy Scout camp in the Adirondacks as a teenager and had been a scout camper there earlier when I was just a boy. Coming from the more civilized farmland that lay along the shores of Lake Ontario in western New York,  I thought the Adirondacks were just about the wildest thing I've ever seen. Here is Kent's Asgaard Farm below, with the tallest peak, Whiteface Mountain, in the distance.


When I was about 9 my father taught me how to ski and for a couple of years he'd take me to the little ski hills in western New York. He was fascinated by the then new big Whiteface Mountain ski resort and promised that he would take me skiing there soon. To my imagination Whiteface seemed mythic.  I couldn't wait. Then he came down with lung cancer and died one June just after I turned 13. My mother hated skiing, but to her credit, drove me and my sister that following winter to Whiteface for two days of skiing. It was a strange experience- I was torn between enjoying the mountain and missing my father who'd wanted so much to take me there.  Over all I think all three of us were too sad to take in that much of the mountain's natural spectacle.

Many times on this blog I've written about how the batteries of our memory power so much of the arts, If something burns through the years in our minds or hearts it undoubtably holds a force that can spark the imagination. Properly handled, strong emotion can lead us to do our best crative work. I go back to see Whiteface and to paint in the Adirondacks often now. When I do I think of my dad and of Rockwell Kent. Both these men in their way put a firm hand on my shoulder and gave me a gentle steer towards becoming the artist, and the man, I am today. 





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