My Traveling Museum Show

The Saginaw Art Museum up in Michigan just posted a bunch of great photos from their recent opening for their Art 4 All group exhibition. My eight museum nationally traveling show Unbroken Thread: The Art of Philip Koch will be showing in these galleries starting Dec. 9. Hope any Midwestern readers in the area will come and say hello. Just before that the show will be at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia July 23- October 2. Here below is one of the spaces where my work will be hanging at PFAC.

Since these gallery spaces are huge and I'll be expanding the show by adding some new paintings and drawings to the exhibition. The idea for this show came from Eva J. Allen, Ph.D., an art historian, who graciously curated the exhibit and wrote a scholarly essay on how my work relates to the grand tradition of American landscape painting in the show's 92 page color exhibition catalogue.

When the first serious landscape painters started working in this country they borrowed a host of conventions that had developed in Europe to give the artists a basic vocabulary. But while Europe had been densely populated, cultivated, and citified, these Ameircan painters were confronted with a land of a very different sort. To them it was Wilderness!   A largely unsettled (by Europeans anyway) and heavily forested landscape, they openly called  it "The New World." Very frequent references to the American landscape as "the new Eden" came from critics and the artists themselves.

I think what was at the core of the American landscape painting, our first original art movement in this country, was a deep emotional connection to the spirit of fresh starts, new beginnings, and awesome creative power so apparent in untouched wilderness. The American landscape swept over them and they feverishly painted to share their excitement.

Philip Koch, Ascension, oil on panel, 40 x 32", 2008,
one of the paintings in the Unbroken Thread exhibition.

I came to landscape painting only after reaching graduate school in 1970 at Indiana University. Louis Hawes, an Art History professor there had organized a huge show of 19th century American landscape painting in honor of the university's 150th anniversarly. I just missed seeing the show, but had my mind blown by the beautiful reproductions in the exhibition catalogue. I literally took it out into the field with me as I struggled to paint my first serious landscapes. It helped a lot.

But I found I couldn't simply copy the work of a Thomas Cole or John Kensett. There was a spirit to their work that attracted my eye but that somehow didn't quite fit the way the world felt to me as an artist in the late 20th century. To our eyes, wilderness and the eternal balances in nature seemed far more precarious and threatened. As they painted in the 1800's a shining optimism for and delight in nature's creative power just oozed from their brush. Now in the back of the mind of anyone painting wilderness lies the fear their painting may end up more a requiem for nature than a celebration.

Still, I think my impulse to turn from abstract painting to looking at the landscape as my subject was a good one. We humans need to reflect on nature as a source of our creativity and our ability to discover, change, and grow. Surely the power that energized the American landscapists of 150 years ago is real. It can recharge our inner batteries. It reminds us of where we came from. It points a way forward for us through the dense undergrowth of our lives. We have to look a little longer than our paintng forebearers to feel the pulse of wilderness in our contemporary world. But it is still there if you look for it. Grab ahold of that thread, and follow it. It can lead one back to who we truly are.

Here below is a photo of my studio yesterday afternoon. I'm looking at a whole bunch of small oils that are preparations for the larger paintings I'm finishing up now. Many of them will be making their debut at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center July 23 - Oct. 2 and then moving out to Michigan for Saginaw Art Museum's showing Dec. 9 - February 19, 2012.

Below are two more photos from Saginaw Art Museum's recent opening. I'm excited to see my paintings, including the newest ones, hanging there later this year.


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