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Showing posts from February, 2012

Canada's Northern Masters

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Over the weekend I was up in Toronto where my two sisters live. While there I made a pilgrimage to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the city's major museum. My sister Kathy years ago began sending me postcards of the early 20th century Canadian landscape painters. I didn't particularly like them at first as they seemed a little too abstract and over generalized. But over time they worked their magic on me and won me over. On Saturday I only had time to focus on a couple of galleries at the museum so I made a bee line for their Lawren Harris rooms, my all time favorite of Canada's painters. But next door were some truly wonderful oils by Tom Thomson, a precursor of Harris and his Group of Seven. 
Above is one of the most famous of all Canadian paintings, Tom Thomson's The Jack Pine (it lives over in Ottawa at the National Gallery of Canada). Below is the plein air oil Thomson made that he used as a basis for the larger studio painting. Looking at the two side by side is fasci…

Are Artist's Freaks?

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Philip Koch, Entryway, Edward Hopper's Truro Studio Kitchen, oil on panel, 12 x 16", 2012

My oil above will be part of a small group of paintings I'll be showing at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, New York March 31 - May  13, 2012.
I was joking around with one of my students at MICA this week and told them something like "Artists are freaks. No wonder nobody understands us..." We both laughed and moved on. Later that day I recalled the incident, wondering if it were really true. The more I thought about it, I came to regret saying it. Edward Hopper, whose studio was the source for this painting, got me thinking about this from another angle.

Artists are a creative lot, and there are some who've extended their creativity to their appearance to help them stand out from the crowd. It is after all hard to get attention for one's artwork. And historically there have always been too few opportunities for artists to survive and have long, productive …

Drawing V.S. Color: The Great Arm Wrestling Contest

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I'm going to be giving a talk next month that will be titled Three Things You Didn't Know About Edward Hopper up at the Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY. There are dozens of things I could touch on. One topic I may talk about is Hopper's talents as a colorist, which in my mind were considerable. Early in his career Hopper did dozens of beautiful etchings like the one above of cows ambling over some railroad tracks. Hopper's strengths with color in part stem from his long practice at mastering traditional drawing issues- creating expressive flat shapes, composing darks and lights, building solid volumes.
Let's look at the cows above. Two of them are partly obscured by a foreground shadow but the third has clambered up into the light. It's pyramid-shaped back is highlighted against the far distant dark forest. You sense there's something about the house that reminds you of what you've seen and felt in that cow. Surely it's the shape of the roof'…

Allentown Art Museum

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Long time readers of this blog know I'm hopelessly in love with smaller art museums. They deliver. Partly because they usually hang work by slightly lesser known artists, you're likely to discover a gem by an artist you don't know or by someone who may have fallen off your personal radar. I was returning last month from a visit to the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY (where I'll be showing a small selection of my paintings March 31 - May 13) and stopped by the Allentown Art Museum (AAM).
I had visited a few years earlier, but AAM had just completed an important expansion and I was eager to see the new spaces. Somewhat amazingly, the Museum has a top notch collection of Old Master paintings thanks to a big donation of work from the Kress Foundation. Here's a an oil by the grand daddy of all landscape painters, Jacob van Ruisdael (Dutch 1628/29- 1682). 


You have to spend a minute to let your eyes adjust to Ruidael's dark palette, but once you do you can …

Survival Guide to the Art World

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Philip Koch, Adirondack Charcoal #2,  vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2011

A drawing by Sol LeWitt

Navigating today's art world can be dizzying. Nobody's got a compass.
Above are two examples of contemporary drawing. The first is my own, Adirondack Charcoal #2, vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2011 that I made up on location in Lake Placid, NY last fall. The second is by Sol LeWitt, American, 1928 - 2007, a prominent conceptual and minimal artist. I paired the two to show how far apart the outer boundaries have been set.
Last week I received an email from an art historian, Veronica Roberts, who's writing the catalogue raisonne on LeWitt. She's trying to track down information on a LeWitt drawing that was "made" by two students at my old school, Oberlin College in 1970.
LeWitt is labeled conceptual because he was playing around with our notions of what we expect drawing to be. I think his intent was to "do the art part" well before his drawings made it to a surf…

Edward Hopper's Truro Studio Kitchen

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This is a new oil painting I finished a couple of days ago. It's 16 x 12", oil on panel, and its title is the same as this blog post's.  It's based on a pastel I did that in turn is based on a vine charcoal drawing I did on location standing in Hopper's painting room and peering into his modest kitchen. The translation from charcoal to pastel I usually find fairly easy. Both of these media after all are powdery, atmospheric by nature, and always given to beautiful gradations that seem to draw themselves. The move from a pastel to working an image up in oil I always find far more tricky. 
Don't get me wrong, I love oil paint- it's like the most tasty cake icing imaginable- buttery, smudgy, and dense in a way dry media can never be. Really, it's yummy stuff. But it has a mind of its own. You don't so much paint with it as negotiate with it. Always it will do things it wants to do that weren't part of your original plan. You work your way around it…

The Memorial Art Gallery, Kodachrome, and Unknown Family History

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I had a fascinating week. It all revolves around my family's involvement with color. Turns out there's more of a history than I knew.
Above is one of the main galleries in the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG) in Rochester, NY, my old hometown. They sent me payment for the two drawings of mine they just purchased for their Permanent Collection.
Inspired by that, I was perusing their website and ran across a new Gallery Buzz blog post by Lucy Harper, the Art Librarian and Webmaster at MAG that stopped me in my tracks. It explained that in the fall of 1914, Kodak decided to debut their then revolutionary new Kodachrome two color process film, the first commercially available color film, with an exhibition at the Memorial Art Gallery. My maternal grandfather, John Capstaff, was the inventor of this film, long a point of pride in my family. But nobody in my family seems to have known of the Museum's exhibit of my grandfather's photography, which seems strange to me. Harper continue…