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"

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