Sunday, April 8, 2012

From the Easel to the Gallery Wall

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Last week was busy. Had two openings.

Above is part of the Inside Edward Hopper's Truro Studio: Paintings by Philip Koch at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, New York that will run through July 1, 2012. As regular readers of this blog know, Hopper was the most important influence on my direction as a painter. At the right that's the railing of the steps that lead up to the second floor of his boyhood home.

And below is a photo from last Thursday evening in Newport News, Virginia at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center. Michael Preble, PFAC's Curator, assembled a truly beautiful exhibition as part of PFAC's 50th Anniversary, Who We Are: Past and Present that shows a selection of artists who have exhibited over the years in their galleries. In July through October of 2011 PFAC hosted Unbroken Thread showing 50 of my paintings that was an amazingly well presented show.





I'm honored PFAC invited to be part of their anniversary commemorations and drove down to Newport News for the Members Opening of the show. It was an impressive, wide-ranging overview of the art PFAC has brought to its region over the years. I'd urge anyone to take a trip to see it. Above is one of visitors Thursday evening taking in my oil paintings Edward Hopper's Truro Studio Bedroom, 10 x 5" at the left and Memorial, 18 x 36" at the right.

By the way, PFAC is really blowing out all the stops to mark its 50th Anniversary later this year by mounting the biggest exhibition in its history that promises to be a must-see show. Michael Preble is pulling together 50 Great Americans, a collection of masterworks from the big names of American art history. It promises to be one heck of a show!

Seeing one's own work in art museums and galleries is deeply satisfying. There's nothing like a bright spot light shining down on your work hung on a freshly painted gallery wall to say to world "Look at this. Here's something important you don't want to miss." Every time I'm able to see my work displayed like this I feel like saying an extra thank you to the art gods.

It's a long journey a painting takes from the easel to the gallery wall.

I just turned 64 this week and that sets one to thinking about the length of the path one has taken as an artist. It all started in my first year at Oberlin College when quite by accident I fell in love with the images projected on the screen where 200 students would gather three times a week in a darkened auditorium for Art History 101. Sociology or History was my intended major when I'd arrived at the school. But those slides worked their magic on me and by November I'd decided to jump ship for the allure of the painting world.

It wasn't a straight shot. Some of the early chapters confronted me with the fact that contemporary art wasn't free from the painfully pretentious and the downright silly. I remember my first project in my 3D Design class. My professor was a conceptual artist who needed help to do a "happening"(as performance art of the day was called). He drafted me and 5 other students in the class to spend a Friday night pretending to play basketball with an imaginary ball and similar stunts on a stage in front of an audience that wasn't sure quite what it was in for. Probably for the first 5 minutes it entertained, but the happening was scheduled to run a full hour. Dutifully I pretended to dribble the non-existent ball and play an invisible trombone for 60 seemingly endless minutes.  As the hour ground on the faces of the audience turned from curiosity to dull resentment. Remarkably, no one in the audience left their seat early, but once it was over there was a stampede-like rush for the exits.

It's funny though, even painful embarrassments like that can help you find your way. Right there I realized my path wouldn't be making further explorations in the performance art genre. Fortunately there were wonderfully positive moments too.

In 1971 I had just started my MFA Painting program at Indiana University and was struggling to find my way doing fantasy paintings of imaginary worlds. It was slow going, mostly because I had no clear idea what I was after. One day Barry Gealt, one of the young painting faculty at IU, popped his head in the door and looked around. He wasn't my teacher, but was naturally curious about the graduate painters. Barry had an amazing enthusiasm to him and a rare ability to inspire you to think maybe anything was possible. With a grin he just said "Hey you might really like taking your paints outside and working right from the landscape. I think you'd like it." With that he gave a quick nod and was gone.

Figuring I had nothing to lose I went out the very next morning and started. I loved it. There was SO much information I could choose from. That seemingly offhand suggestion launched me off in a whole new direction. At the time you don't realize you're making one of the major turns in your life.




Here I am years later in 2010 still following that advice from grad school, painting from life right outside the Hopper studio on Cape Cod. Maybe in 2062 when Peninsula Fine Arts Center celebrates its 100th Anniversary I'll get invited back to show there again. I'll have more observations then. Stay tuned.

2 comments:

  1. Ah, the debris that litters, and sometimes obscures the path! But, if one spends too much time concentrating on maintaining a safe footing, one forgets to look up to see the prize. Best advice? Find a good orthopedist and don't look down. Good work, Philip.

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  2. Donald- great comment. Actually I'm good friends with an orthopedist, so maybe that'll help.

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