Thursday, May 29, 2014

Art Essex Gallery Tour, Part Three

Here are the concluding five oils in my current exhibit at Art Essex Gallery in Essex, CT (through June 7, 2014). You can read about the other pieces in this 15 painting show in my two previous blog posts here and here. Below are two of my oils in the Gallery's front window (upper right and lower left).

Above is The Reach III, oil on panel, 24 x 36". It's a highly autobiographical painting. My father used to take me sailing at night on Lake Ontario when I was 10 and 11. Frankly I found it a little scary but figured if he was there it must be OK. Sometimes we'd go out when there was a full moon shining through the clouds, an image that's firmly implanted in my memory as the essence of beauty and mystery. 

Sadly he died unexpectedly when I had just turned 13. Memories of those nocturnal sails are something I want to hold onto. Fortunately for a painter there's a ready way to do that at hand. I suspect this back story accounts for some of the mood in this particular oil. 

The painting's background was changed from upstate New York to the beach just below Edward Hopper's old painting studio in S. Truro, MA on Cape Cod. For a source I relied on a vine charcoal drawing of the shore I had made during one of my residencies in Hopper's studio. In keeping with the theme of memory, I drew the line of dunes as they would have appeared in Hopper's day back in the 30's and 40's, before the clutter of modern summer homes.


After Sunset II, oil on linen, 20 x 30" began as a painting of a wooded cove in New England, but as I worked on it most of the land fell away in favor of an open ocean. What's fun in a painting like this is negotiating how the solid land will meet the fluid sea. Each of them needs to maintain their distinctive personalities yet the painter must get them to enter into a conversation with each other.

Thicket II, oil on linen, 28 x 42", the largest painting in the exhibit is certainly the most complicated. It's based on memories of two different patches of birch trees. One I discovered while on my honeymoon in northern New England. The other was a grove of young birches that stood across the street from where I used to wait for the school bus in a rural town in upstate New York. They grew close together, almost as if following some lovely but hidden choreography. 

Uncharted II, oil on panel, 18 x 24" is also a painting based entirely on memories of my boyhood near snowy Rochester, NY. Heavy snowfalls delighted me as a kid, transforming my familiar forested neighborhood into a new and unknown terrain that begged to be explored.  I confess it's one of my absolute favorites for it combines a mysterious invitation to enter its spaces yet sounds just a hint of foreboding.

Connecticut Shore II, oil on linen, 16 x 32" was painted at the mouth of one of the many rivers in coastal Connecticut that flow into Long Island Sound. I began the painting on a hazy morning as the sun was just beginning to burn off the deliciously silvery atmosphere.  You can see it most clearly in the different greys of the far distance. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Art Essex Gallery Show Tour, Part Two

Philip Koch's wife Alice at Art Essex Gallery's exhibit of Koch's paintings.

Continuing my tour of my 15 painting show now up at Art Essex Gallery in Essex, CT through June 7, 2014. Here are five more of the displayed works.

Last year I showed a major oil at George Billis Gallery in New York, Horizon, 40 x 60" based on the ideas I originally worked out in the small oil above, Northern Sky: Yellow. Modest in size, a painting like this plays a critical role in my studio practice.

For the first couple of decades I was painting I always did all my experimenting and searching right on surface of my larger canvases. I saw this was a way to embrace immediacy. An artist after all feels a certain urgency as they work to bring their paintings to life. I just wanted to dive in.

That method led to a lot of canvases I am very proud of to this day. But overtime I came to see that sometimes slowing down could make me see more deeply into the worlds I was imagining on canvas. I began exploring new ideas in stages, trying out alternative compositions first in a sketchbook and then on a modest scale in oil. Impatience I realized wasn't really my friend.

The irony is I found an even greater freedom working out my ideas on a small surface first. With less at stake than in a large canvas, I became more playful and more willing to take risks, to investigate ways of solving a painting I'd never tried before. 

Deep Forest Sun, oil on panel, 6 x 8",  a painting I am especially happy with. It invites you to walk into its space, climb the hill and spy what's just over the rise.

Isle au Haute Morning I, oil on 
panel, 6 1/2 x 13"

Last summer when I had a solo show in Stonington, Maine at Isalos Fine Art, I did a number of paintings of the Stonington Harbor in the early mornings. In this oil the mountains of Isle au Haut, part of Acadia National Park just to the north of Stonington, are just emerging out of the sun-filled mists.

The Sea, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 13" was inspired by another part of Acadia National Park. My wife and I honeymooned there many years ago. For me it's probably the most special of all the places I go painting. This is based on the Porcupine Islands that shelter the port of Bar Harbor from the rougher open waters. 

The Reach, oil on panel, 10 x 15" was based on a vine charcoal drawing I did on one of my residencies in Edward Hopper's Truro studio on Cape Cod. Walking down to the beach where Hopper used to go swimming (usually alone, as he did so many things) I drew the line of sand dunes extending to the south along the shore of Cape Cod Bay. While up at the Hopper studio we have been treated to some elegant displays of moonlight filtering through the clouds. That nocturnal memory figures in this image as well. 

This painting served as preparation for the much larger oil  The Reach III that is also in the exhibition. 

I'll show it in the 3rd and concluding blog post about the Art Essex Gallery show on Thursday, May 29.

Upcoming Event:

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA has invited me to give a talk on Thursday, July 31 as part of their programming for their major summer exhibition The Unkown Hopper: Edward Hopper as Illustrator (June 7 - Oct. 26, 2014).

Inside Hopper's World: A Contemporary Painter's View. An Evening with Philip Koch

Thursday, July 31, 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. 

I'll be speaking about Edward Hopper's life on Cape Cod and how it shaped his art. I will show photos I've taken during my 15 residencies in the little-seen Truro, MA studio where he lived and worked for 30 years. I will also make some side-by-side comparisons of how Hopper handled similar themes in his illustration work and in his paintings.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Guided Tour: Philip Koch Exhibit at Art Essex Gallery, Part One

    Philip Koch at the Art Essex Gallery opening
    of the exhibit May 17.

Through June 7, 2014 Art Essex Gallery in Essex, CT has a wonderful show of 15 of my oil paintings on display. One of my collectors contacted me to say they wouldn't be able to make it to Connecticut and asked if I could give a "tour" of the show on this blog. Here are the first five paintings, starting with some of the smaller oils.

I'll follow up in the next couple of days with the remaining ten pieces.

There's a funny story about the the smallest painting in the show above, Lupines, oil on panel, 6 x 4 1/2". I was up in Maine on the first morning of a 5 day painting trip near Boothbay Harbor. Came upon a terrific small pine-studded island about 50 yards off shore. Excited, I immediately dove in and two hours later had a very promising 24" wide oil more than half completed. The next morning I was pumped as I returned to the spot to finish it.  But Maine is justifiably famous for its capricious fog. My little island, though only a stone's throw from where I stood, had disappeared behind a dense white veil. Never once over the remaining four days was it to reappear. 

So I pivoted around and painted a close up of the early summer blossoms of the lupines right in back of my easel. Though I never saw my island again that week, the lupines, viewed from only a few feet away, remained steady dependable models.

Forest Stream, oil on panel, 9 x 6", was painted near my studio in Maryland in high summer. On a dazzlingly bright day a stream winding its way through an open field abruptly disappears as it plunges into a dense forest. I wondered how long it stayed in the leafy shadows before emerging once again into the open.

Schoodic, oil on panel, 7 x 10 1/2" was painted half way up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine. It's a view looking north across Frenchman's Bay toward the Schoodic Peninsula. It was early morning and the sun was battling it out
with the fog banks coming in off the ocean. Happily it contiuned to clear as I worked.

Sonnet I, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 13". Last Fall we drove out to the Schoodic Peninsula and looked south back towards the mountains on Mt. Desert Island. The taller peak at the right is Cadillac Mountain.

Quiet Shore: Silver, oil on panel, 7 x 10 1/2". A tidal estuary off the Atlantic, painted on a misty morning that transformed the usual deep greens of the foliage into an array of silvery greys.

Here's the book that's out in the gallery with the paintings with a short artist's statement and my resume.

To be continued...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How Much Have I Been Influenced by Edward Hopper and Charles Burchfield?

Philip Koch, Thicket II, oil on linen, 28 x 42", 2014

I recently had posted my oil Thicket II as the image on a Facebook events page announcing the opening reception for my show at Art Essex Gallery in Essex, CT (this Saturday, May 17, 4-7 p.m., show runs through June 7). Lee Mamunes, an artist and a knowledgeable docent at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY, made a very complementary but also perceptive comment about the painting.

Lee wrote: 

At first I thought of Charles Burchfield's trees, but his work is so jittery and the palette isn't his. Then I realized that your scene depicts calm and solitude more like Hopper. Wait! Have you synthesized both artists?    

Charles Burchfield, September Wind and Rain, 
watercolor, 22 x 44", 1949, Butler Institute of American Art

Edward Hopper, New York, New Haven & Hartford, 
oil, 32 x 50", 1931, Indianapolis Museum of Art

Of course it's pretty nice to be mentioned in the same sentence with these two giants of American realist painting.

I replied to Lee : 

Lee, thanks for your very perceptive comments!
Burchfield I feel claimed that jittery territory as something all his own- somehow he defies the odds and pulls it off as an exalted and elegant place to be. But other painters need to carefully follow their own natures, and I will always have one foot firmly planted in the Edward Hopper camp. As you say, Hopper offers us solitude and calm in his work. I find a great quiet energy in Hopper's world and it is a place I will always feel at home in.

Some years ago my paintings probably did have a more Hopper-like feel to them. But I think over time if one is really painting at their best, their inner personality insists on asserting itself. In particular, my hand prefers a more agitated paint stroke than Hopper. And especially in the last 15 years my color sense has become more adventurous, straying farther off the path of the local colors one would expect to see.

Burchfield on the other hand inhabited a remarkable world all his own. I believe anyone who consciously tried to closely imitate his handwriting and his vision is going to come up short.

The best stance for a painter is to stand back at a little distance from both these amazing painters. Learn from them, be inspired by them, but also listen one's own inner voice. That is what I have tried to do. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sailing with Edward Hopper (How I learned to Draw)

Above is one of my all time favorite paintings. It's Sailing, an early oil by Edward Hopper that's in the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. 
Sailing, and Hopper, figured prominently in my boyhood and on my path to becoming an artist. 

My father had owned a beaten up old sailboat just before he got married. But children and responsibilities followed shortly thereafter. My dad, a man who was if anything too determined to be a good provider, ditched all that to take his office job seriously. But he used to tell me about those earlier days when I was a boy and something about the tenor of his voice then told me sailing held special magic for him. I could tell it was something he deeply missed. 

Almost out of the blue one day he declared he was buying a sailboat and promptly did. And for the next three years the two of us spent every summer weekend racing the boat on one of the New York Finger Lakes. We always lost, but in spite of that we had a ball together. He died unexpectedly at 49, cutting short this brief but happy time we spent together. 

But I continued the sailing in another way. I began sketching sailboats in the margins of my junior high school notebooks. They began haltingly but gradually became almost an obsession. Perhaps it was my way of unconsciously holding on to one of the best parts of my boyhood. I just knew I felt good when I drew hulls and sails.

Now sailboats are complicated forms- all compound curves and forever changing their pose as they tack into the wind. Anything you practice over and over you get better at and my boat drawings slowly took on an authority and sense of conviction. Looking back, these hundreds of nautical musings were really where I began as an artist. I taught myself to draw. 

Shortly after my father died a friend recruited me to join a fledgling local group of the Sea Scouts. Our big project was building a wooden 14' Blue Jay sloop from a kit. On its maiden voyage the darned thing leaked so badly we were afraid to ever take it out on the water again.

Edward Hopper, The Cat Boat, etching

Years later at college I discovered the paintings of Edward Hopper that played their pivotal role in turning me towards a lifetime as a realist painter. Reading about his own boyhood I delighted to learn Edward too had built a small sailboat as a boy. His craft too had the same fatal leaking issues. While not a woodworker, Hopper could paint. In his pictures of sailboats I felt my old boyhood love of my times on the water rekindle. 

I have a new show of my work opening at Art Essex Gallery in Essex, CT this week (May 14 - June 7, opening reception Sat. May 17, 4-7 p.m.). Here are two of my recent sailboat paintings in the show.

Philip Koch, Connecticut Shore, oil on linen, 16 x 32", 2014

Philip Koch, The Reach III, oil on panel, 24 x 36:, 2011

Here's a few more examples of my sailing paintings that aren't in the Art Essex show but are fun to post nonetheless. To me they're the best of old friends.

Philip Koch, The Voyage of Memory, oil on canvas, 38 x 38"

Philip Koch, Wednesday Morning, oil on canvas, 48 x 60"

Philip Koch, First Light, oil on canvas, 30 x 40"

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Florence Griswold Museum, Edward Hopper House, Art Essex Gallery

This last weekend I traveled through New York and Connecticut delivering paintings to the Art Essex Gallery in Essex, CT for my show opening May 14. Almost next door in Old Lyme is the historic Florence Griswold Museum, " the Home of American Impressionism." Lured by the almost comically perfect Spring weather, I spent a couple of hours strolling through the grounds and galleries on the Griswold's May 3 Free Day. They had a big turn out and everyone seemed just as dazzled by the weather as I was.  Given the American Impressionist's devotion to painting sunlight in nature, the day couldn't have been more thematically appropriate. 

Above is one of the most archetypal American Impressionist paintings ever made, On the Piazza, by William Chadwick (Am. 1879-1962), a view of the porch on the guest house Florence Griswold ran for a generation of Impressionist painters. The Museum moved Chadwick's nearby studio to its own grounds and has it open to the public. It's full of the artist's easels and equipment, looking like they are just waiting for Chadwick to return and pick up the brush. I was struck by how much it looked and felt like my own painting studio in Baltimore. 

Here's part of the crowd enjoying the sun outside the back entrance to Miss Florence's boarding house.

One of my particular favorites of the Old Lyme Colony artists is Willard Metcalf (Am. 1858-1925). His oil Dogwood Blossoms from 1906 is hanging in one of the main house's upstairs galleries. It's a perfect example of Metcalf's ability to partially dissolve his forms into an all encompassing sun-filled atmosphere. His sense of balance between clear defined forms at the right foreground and suggestive distant trees is elegant.

I've always been a partisan of drawing as a key ingredient in expressive painting. An unexpected pleasure was a display case containing sketchbooks by Old Lyme artists. A real beauty is this study by Robert Vonnah (Am. 1858-1933) of bright sunshine falling on these closely bunched farm buildings (please excuse the reflections of the ceiling lights on the glass case). Even in their black and white work you can see the intense scrutiny the Impressionist artists gave to light effects. For them it was the main story.

The Museum grounds seen from the Chadwick studio.

Here's the fanciful Anticipator sculpture by Mathew Geller. It playfully spews forth a cloud of steam and sprinkling water drops. In the background is the Lieutenant River. Overall the setting of the Museum grounds is stunningly beautiful.

The next day I traveled to Nyack, New York. I was one of the speakers at the Edward Hopper House Art Center's May 4 Spring fundraising event, At Home with Jo and Edward Hopper. I spoke about the pivotal role Hopper's art played in turning me from painting abstractly to working in a realist direction as a artist. Here I am that morning working away on a vine charcoal drawing of the second floor corner bedroom where Hopper was born and lived until he moved to Manhattan just before he turned 30.

 Art Essex Gallery in Essex. CT will be showing a lot of my newest work in a 3 artist exhibition May 14 - June 8. My wife Alice and I will be attending the Saturday, May 17 opening reception ( 4 to 7 p.m.). All are welcome.

Here's some of my work that will be on display. Uncharted II, oil on panel, 18 x 24". To me it's a painting that talks about both the allure and the uncertainty of facing the unknown. 

Thicket II, oil on linen, 28 x 42", a painting celebrating a sun-filled clearing that relieves the darkness in a deep forest interior.