Looking Back

Philip Koch, Near the Yale Farm, oil on canvas, 24 x 36, 1992 Private collection.

A project to get my 35mm slides of my earlier paintings scanned and catalogued is underway. As the images come back to me there are a lot of pleasant surprises. More than anything I'm amazed at how many paintings I was producing over all those years. You can see the beginnings of the project on the "Earlier Works" page of my website.

Above is a studio painting I made based on an oil study I painted in Norfolk, CT in the Litchfield Hills. I painted there frequently, staying at the cottage of an old college friend. It's a heavily forested area, but the silvan gloom is wonderfully punctuated by the stands of white birch. And rows of delicately pristine ferns line all the back roads. My focus in painting this was inventing a rhythm of highlights and shadows that would organize the incredibly crowded forest into a deep space that beckons the view to enter in.

Philip Koch, Farm at Craddock Lane, oil on panel, 14 x 21", 1991. Private collection

One of the ways I get ideas for paintings is just driving around and keeping my eyes open. This field far to the northwest of my home in Baltimore caught my eye late in the summer of because of the gorgeous yellow ochres of the crop. (The farmer came out to see what I was doing once I had my French easel set up, which was great because I wanted to know what his beautifully-hued crop was.  It's rye). 

Late summer days in the Midatlantic are often hazy, and that was in full effect, making the far distant planes recede into cooler grays. I was also fortunate that the crop was being harvested, providing my foreground field with the arc-shaped paths of the harvesting tractor at the left. Always the challenge when painting natural forms is to discover the hidden geometry underlying the foliage and grasses. In this case a John Deere tractor was a huge help.

Philip Koch, Cape Cod Morning, oil on canvas, 36 x 54", 1994, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, IA

There's a funny story attached to this painting. It's a view of a house   just off Rte. 6 on Cape Cod in Wellfleet. Rte. 6 is now a four lane road that runs up the spine of the Cape and is heavily traveled in the summer. I had been spying this scene as a source for several years and finally decided to tackle it. Trouble was when I scouted out locations to set up my French easel, the shoulders of the road were so low that the bottom section of the yellow house was obscured. And it was the all those yellows that I was after. 

I finally decided to set up on a four foot wide traffic island in the middle of the four lanes of traffic. The view was great, but the setting in the morning rush hour (yes, even Cape Cod has rush hour) was next to unnerving. I spent 3 or 4 mornings precariously camped out like this getting disbelieving stares from a lot of motorists.  It wasn't without some humor though. On the last day I worked on the piece a guy in an old pick up rolled down his window and yelled out "needs more green." I actually stepped back and considered his advice for a moment before deciding I liked my interpretation better.


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