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Showing posts from September, 2011

Rage and Turmoil

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And you thought you were having a bad day...
In the popular imagination artists are pictured as passionate. And honestly when I think of what it takes to stay at the easel making paintings over a lifetime, I think that word nails our personalities well. But I've come to the conclusion that emotions can to be too strong for an artist to tackle directly. Cezanne once said that while art wasn't the same as nature, it travels on a track that runs parallel to nature. It like that.
The above painting comes as close to a nightmare as any I've ever seen. At times of distress I've found myself looking through Google Images searching for this gruesome oil. It's Goya's Saturn Eating His Children. It's so ghastly I feel bowled over by it. And while I feel it's better than anything Damien Hirst will ever do, it's not one of Goya's better pieces. The image shocks us with its biting graphic action, but after you've seen that I think it doesn't offer that…

How to Lead an Art Tour

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My first ever trip to an art museum was in elementary school. We were taken to the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY. Perhaps it was in 4th or 5th grade.  I saw the museum's major Winslow Homer painting of his Prout's Neck, Maine studio glimpsed through the heavy fog. Even as a kid I'd heard of Homer as my parents had a wonderful print by Homer hanging over our living room couch. "Hey"I thought, "that's the guy we've got at home!" Obviously I was a real art world insider. The musuem's Homer  was and is a terrific painting, the only piece I remember from that early tour. Seeing as I am obsessed with painting rocky shorelines to this day, I know that early museum trip had an impact far greater than I then suspected.
The Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA, where my show Unbroken Thread: The Art of Philip Koch is showing through Oct. 2 brings a lot of tour groups through its facility to see its exhibitions. Many are school groups…

Light Revealing/Light Concealing

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Here's Rembrandt as a young man. Think of how many self portraits you've seen where the painter's eyes stare out at you as the key feature of the painting. Not so here.  Rembrandt's having a ball playing around with the light direction, bringing out only the shapes on his skull he feels best evoke the feeling he's after. Instead of a left eye we're given a darkened bird's nest of an eye socket with a bottom left edge carved by the turning silhouette of the artist's cheekbone. Cleverly, Rembrandt interests us the thing next to the eye we wanted to see.






















The portrait is of course lit from behind, pushing the whole right side of the chin, jaw, and neck and far shoulder into a flat dark silhouette. We don't see much of his lower lip, but we don't miss it as the empty space right under his jaw seems to glow with its own shimmering personality. It's as if Rembrandt is painting himself by painting a portrait of the space next to his head.




It might …

Looking for a bad Giacometti Self Portrait

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I'm not very nice. Just ask my cat.
The reason I'm telling you this is I was planning to write a blog post comparing self portraits- two by Rembrandt counter posed to one by the early 20th century Swiss artist Giacometti. I knew at some point I'd seen some not terribly impressive self portraits by Giacometti and went to Google Images to hunt down one I really didn't like. I knew the Rembrandts would blow the Giacometti out of the water. 
That's when the trouble started- this one came up first. 
It's an oil Giacometti painted of himself in 1921. Leaving aside the question I always ask of why anybody would paint wearing a suit, I had to confess I kinda liked this one. So, saving the Rembrandts for a later post, let's look at this pleasant surprise of a painting. In its cramped spaces, Giacometti manages to give us a pretty expressive painting. He'd absorbed most of the modernist impulses that happened with the various painting movements that followed on the …

The Subtle Power of Gradation

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My daughter Louisa was joking around with me the other night. She was planning to take a bunch of her students to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and she asked which of their exhibits I would recommend. Pausing a bit she said "of course ever since I was little you and my mom have been brainwashing me that all abstract art is bad." Ribbing me, she wondered aloud if my advice should be trusted. Naturally I was bowled over by this unanticipated accusation and took awhile to pick myself up off the floor and remove the sharp arrow that had pierced my heart. Could I really be that narrow? 
It is true my heart lies with the realist painters most of the time and long time readers of this blog know I talk about the Hoppers, the Rockwell Kents, the Winslow Homers, and the like way more than I do contemporary art. But my rebuttal of the charge I'm biased against abstraction (much less against current concept  driven art) would of necessity be pretty short. One thing in my favor …

A Friend in the Metropolitan

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My old friend Bob Sheridan who was one of the first people I met when I went off to college in Oberlin, Ohio emailed me a photo of the Edward Hopper oil above yesterday. When I first met Bob I was intending to major in sociology and imagined a career for myself teaching and writing learned books. Bob's staying in New York this week and went over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Back in the late '60's I spent two wonderful summers as a student at the Art Students League of New York.  I used to go to the Met to study the paintings when they were open in the evenings. I was determined to learn everything I could from that giant museum.

Bob's email sent me back to those years. Bob was one of the earliest collectors of my paintings ( and incidentally owns a large oil I painted in Hopper's kitchen in his Cape Cod studio that I'm really proud of). He also bought my work back in the days when it was really affordable.

Bob's photo of the Hopper lighthouse makes m…

The Art Devil is Trying to Kill Artists

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Philip Koch, Blue Mountain II, oil on panel, 14 x 21", 2011


I received several comments from artists who had read my response to a question Joanne Mattera had asked on her blog this week. The topic was whether artists felt like "giving up." Here's what I had said- 


I've been painting actively since the late '60's. Over that time I have watched many talented and hard working artists become discouraged and gradually withdraw from actively making and showing their work. The world is a less interesting place without the artworks many of them would have created.

Over time I've come to value survival itself as a talent that is right up there along with having a genuine vision and a sharp eye.

And I have more respect than ever for any artist who is able to keep the little fire of their enthusiasm alive and keep working at their art over decades of time. Some of then are unsung, some of them don't always produce the very best work, but still to me they are …