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Showing posts from May, 2012

Falling Over and the Still Pine

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Philip Koch, Still Pine, oil on panel, 12 x 12", 2012
Sometimes you'll read that a particular artist or a musician got their start because they were sickly and couldn't play with the other kids. Forced to stay home they would discover their inner calling. Well that happened to me too, but in my case it was because I was clumsy. 
Of course there's lots of factors that pushed me to onto the path of becoming a landscape painter. One of the biggest is that I fell off my first bike. It spooked me.  Every time after, no matter how hard I tried, I'd freak out and lose my balance and go crash again. It's odd as I'm fairly well coordinated as an adult, but try as I might at six and seven years old, I just couldn't stay on that bike.

There weren't many kids in my rural neighborhood to begin with and for those there were, bikes were big news. For several years, long after all my friends had mastered the art of the two wheeler, my secret shame was that I'…

Heading North with Thomas Cole to Mt. Desert Island

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Philip Koch, Frenchman's Bay, oil on panel, 6 1/2" x 13", 2012
In June my wife Alice and I are headed up to Maine for the thirtieth anniversary of our honeymoon. We're actually going to be a month late, but on our honeymoon there in May of 1982 we just about froze, so a little discretion seemed called for. That was my first trip ever to Mt. Desert Island and it knocked me over backward with its elemental beauty. But from experience now we know it's still stunning in June, plus a lot warmer.

Many people ask what it is Alice does when we go on these painting trips. I tend to get all ramped up and want to paint all the time and she doesn't make art. Normally back in Baltimore she works like a fiend in mental health (she runs an excellent partial hospitalization program at a local hospital). So mostly she rests, calmly soaking up the trees and the surf in her mysterious zen like way. Whatever she does, these trips seem to calm her and relax her deeply. Lord know…

Silhouette Magic

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Above is a new painting I just finished up last night, Northern Pines, Morning,  oil on panel, 12 x 24", 2012. As I was painting on it I found myself thinking about the quote from Charles Burchfield that I wrote about on a blog last week (it's from the Burchfield Penny Art Center's website).

In April of 1956 Burchfield wrote, “I would see our western N.Y. landscape, not in terms of modern life...but rather in terms of eternal verities of the primeval earth..which can never be erased if only we look beneath the surface.”


Partly because I grew up near Charles Burchfield's home in Western New York State I've always had a liking for his work. His line about the"verities of the primeval earth" strikes a chord in me. Burchfield, through his painting and his writing helps me understand what it is I am doing with my own art.
The source for the painting was actually an experience one morning thirty years ago. My wife and I were on our honeymoon and driving toward…

One of Paintings Secret Ingredients

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Painting is a language that has been handed to us by people from the past. What we choose to say with it can vary, but we have to fully employ the tools the language places in our hands.

Ran into some images like the one above by the painter Max Ernst (German 1891- 1976). I don't usually spend a lot of time looking at surrealist art, but I've always had a soft spot for some of Ernst's paintings. Like this one. In particular I love the smoothly gradating sky contrasting the jumble of leaves and vines in the foreground. This is one creepy jungle, a place I'd rather not spend the night. Its moodiness is increased by how Ernst balances the earth and the sky together so well.

After his second marriage to the heiress Peggy Guggenheim (which you can't help but wonder about as a career move), Ernst married the painter Dorothea Tanning. Here's one of her paintings below. One of the fun things in it is to let your eye be drawn down the hallway until you reach the only s…

My Justifiable Fear of Wrens and a Quick Tribute to Charles Burchfield

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Every spring I lose access to the deck that juts off my painting studio. There's this wren family that takes over the birdhouse I placed there long ago. The wren parents start screaming at me if I dare invade their nesting territory. Sure they're small and not likely to cause me permanent bodily harm, but to be on the safe side, I stay out of their way. Their babies will be grown and fly from the nest soon enough.  It's a real drama playing outside my studio window that hints at something deeper.


I ran across a beautifully expressed sentiment by one of my favorite artists (and like me a Western New York resident ) Charles Burchfield on the Burchfield Penny Art Center's Facebook page.


In April of 1956 Burchfield wrote, “I would see our western N.Y. landscape, not in terms of modern life...but rather in terms of eternal verities of the primeval earth..which can never be erased if only we look beneath the surface.”


Burchfield is getting at something right at the heart of art…

Light as the Subject: An Example by Hopper

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One of the things I value most highly in painting (and in life for that matter) is the enjoyment of light. Square Rock, a small oil Hopper did early in his career out on the coast of Maine that's in the Whitney Museum's big Hopper Collection, makes the dazzling light palpable in a way few painters can.

One of the particular talents Hopper has mastered was telling his viewers about the connection between the strong sunlight and the very solid and even massive forms they illuminated. If you trip and fall in a Hopper painting, you're likely to need a bandage afterwards. Bright light in his world shows us crisp and sharp edges. Against that he shines a bright, weightless spotlight on his scene. It's usually marvelous.

As the painting's title suggests, Hopper was intrigued by the geometry of the square-ish big rock at the left. But he knew to just plop it right in the center of his composition might make it overwhelm the other smaller rocks, especially since it's s…

A New Painting of Edward Hopper's Nyack Bedroom

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Philip Koch, Sun in an Empty Room III, oil on panel, 12 x 9", 2012
Here's the first of the oils I was telling you about in the previous post that I began in the bedroom in Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY. I had layed in my basic design in oil and then switched from oil paints to vine charcoal to do a more finished preparatory drawing. I love bouncing back and forth between these two media. Each has its own strength and each comes with its own unique challenge. 
Is there anyone who doesn't love color? Whenever someone walks into a room with art hanging on the walls their eyes inevitably go to the works in color first. We can't help ourselves. Probably there are reasons buried in our DNA from our evolution. 
In my own family there was a long intrigue with color. My grandfather John Capstaff worked for years to develop color photography. In 1915 Eastman Kodak unveiled his invention, Kodachrome, the first commercially available color film. (As my family told…

Painting in the Edward Hopper House Art Center

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I was up in Nyack, New York at the Edward Hopper House Art Center painting for three days last week in the room where Edward Hopper (American 1882-1967) was born. On and off he lived in this room until late into his twenties when he finally moved out to Manhattan. Hopper used to give art lessons in the parlor downstairs. (Wonder if any of his former students ever wrote about the experience?). 




I did these three vine charcoals and got two small oils on panel pretty far along. I would show you close up photos of the in-progress oils as I really like their overall color, but I've found it's bad luck to post works-in-progress. It seems to tempt the art gods to wake up and start messing with you. They hate presumptuousness in us artists and often take the displaying of works in progress as a personal affront. They've been known to reach down from art heaven and mess with any painter they think overly confident. So it's best to tip toe  your way through a painting in privat…