Victory in the Studio
Philip Koch, From Day to Night, oil on canvas, 36 x 72", 2011
Here's a new painting completed yesterday. It will make its public debut this July when the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia open its Unbroken Thread: The Art of Philip Koch (July 23 - October 2). The exhibition was organized by the art historian Eva J. Allen, Ph.D. for the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) and is on an eight museum national tour.
It's got a long, long history. Begun in 2003 I actually included it in my first solo exhibition at the Cape Cod Museum of Art that year and the following year at UMUC's A Vision of Nature: The Art of Philip Koch. It was reproduced in the catalogue UMUC published for that show.
Then it came back to my studio and I got an itchy feeling I could make it better but wan't quite sure what I wanted to do with it. So I assigned the status of an NFL player on injured reserve.
We eyed each other on and off as I worked on other paintings. Finally about two years ago I started working in earnest on it with a sense I wanted a more somber and subtle painting.
What had been troubling me about the piece was it seemed to be equally about the sky and the water. While there was lots of energy to it, the feeling wasn't one of all the horses pulling together. Looking at it was a little like having your eyes bounce between two opposing ping pong paddles, only moving back and forth vertically instead of horizontally. You are supposed to stimulate the viewer rather than exhaust them.
Like so many of the other "little" adjustments I've decided to try on my paintings, this one ended up taking way longer than anticipated. In the end I repainted about 85% of the oil's surface, and the sky many times- seriously there have to be at least 25 different skies on this painting,
As I've written before my wife thinks I'm the least patient person she knows. But at least in painting I can pretend I'm patient. I could see the painting was growing in a good new direction as I kept working on it and that I shouldn't stop until I was confident I'd brought it to where it should be. Why can't I work in a straight line and just take it right to where I want it to be? Well, I imagine the farmers here in Maryland ask themselves the same question after they've planted several hundred rows of new corn. Art is a lot like a growing plant. A new cell has to build on the foundation layed down by the previous one. Our understanding of where a painting needs to go unfolds like that.
Of course there are breakthroughs and sudden flashes of insight. But we're not in a position to take advantage of them without all the painstakingly slow and methodical work.
One of my secrets (please don't tell) is that I balance off the big and slow-to-complete studio paintings with very small and quick studies in oil or, even quicker, pastel. And fastest of all, my vine charcoal drawings. Here's the one I did to help me figure out what direction I wanted to head in making the changes on the 72 inch oil version.
Philip Koch, From Day to Night, vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2011