Above is the view of one of the walls in the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts' Bowman Gallery hung with my paintings for their show that opened last evening, The Mirror of Nature: The Art of Philip Koch. The show will run in this Hagerstown, MD Museum through Feb. 22, 2015. Back in 1995 the Museum hung a smaller exhibit of my work in the same space. This new show included much more work and fills more of the Museum's galleries. Yet for me standing in the galleries last night I was struck with the sense I and my work were returning to an important chapter from my past.
In fact one of my favorite paintings in the new show is titled Returning.
So often the world seems to bowl us over with a river of sensations. If we took in all of this deluge consciously we'd be completely overloaded. I think we'd be unable to move. We had to evolve to be selective about what we notice.
Philip Koch, Returning, oil on canvas, 28 x 42", 2008
Who hasn't noticed how sometimes certain things or people just seem to thrust themselves into our emotional foreground. For example when I happened upon the red house that would become the subject for my painting Returning, I realized a mysterious urge to go back and look at it again. And again after that. There was something about the scene that triggered a long buried memory of how I feel about things.
I grew up in a remote house in a deep forest on the shore of northern Lake Ontario. As I think now of those early years the most vivid image that come to me is the forceful presence of the old growth forest. Insanely unpredictable patterns of naked tree branches casting shadows onto the trunks of large trees. That image the surrounds every notable event of my childhood.
We can't recall all of even the most important events of our early lives and gradually they sink below the surface of conscious memory. Yet they remain like smoldering embers of a still hot fire in our unconscious minds. They lay there dormant for years, warming the bedrock of who we really are.
I think at the heart of art is this recalling of these lost pieces of ourselves.
At one time my painting Returning had a prominent figure reaching to open the porch door. Yet somehow he seemed beside the point. I painted him out and let the foreground tree take center stage. And with that the painting sounded a deeper and more true note. I was putting the spotlight on the form that most aptly told the story the painting wanted to tell.
A painting that particularly grabs at you is doing you a favor. It is holding up a mirror to you to show you another side of your real nature. Perhaps my painting Returning will return to you something important you'd temporarily lost sight of.
Upcoming Slide and Gallery Talk:
Philip Koch will give a slide presentation and gallery talk on his painting career at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 2:30 p.m. Free and open to the public. All invited!