Saturday, January 31, 2015

Conversations with Alfred Bricher and John Constable


                               Alfred Bricher, Sea and Rocks Near Newport, Indiana University Art Museum


I was wandering through images of paintings and stumbled across two old and dear friends- the two paintings by other artists that first inspired me to make copies in oil.

Back in 1970 I entered the MFA Program in Painting at Indiana University with no idea what kind of art I wanted to make. My paintings often were going several different directions at once,  starting with straight observation, bouncing into expressionism and hitting a few surreal notes. But I had the good fortune to almost immediately fall in love with the large exhibition of 19th century landscape paintings the IU Art Museum had staged. 

One of the artists in the show was Alfred Bricher (Am. 1837 - 1908). I was allowed to set up my paints and make a copy directly from his original painting above. Making copies was something I had read about that used to be part of every artist's training, but it was new to me. I found the process was like falling into a long conversation with the artist, with him gently pointing the way as I examined his thinking. 

Copying a painting in oil is slow going but it allowed me time to fall into his world on a deeper level than I'd anticipated. For example his large hillside of rocks at the left proved far more simple and geometric than I'd first realized.




John Constable, A Cottage in a Corn Field

About the same time I bought a little paperback of John Constable (British, 1776 -1837) landscapes from the campus bookstore. My favorite plate was the oil above. Back in my student apartment at night I worked up a careful oil copy of it as well. 

What I love about this Constable is the way he created such a flowing movement from the far distant curving clouds to the cottage roof and surrounding field, and finally into the distinctly differently colored foreground. I remember specifically how making this copy got me thinking about layering my pigments, building up complexly rich forms like the trunk and branches lying on top of the expanse of "foliage" color the artist had applied first. 




Philip Koch, Fall at Lake Lemon, oil on canvas, 1971 

My painting above was done on location right after I made these two copies. And I remember thinking at the time how I could feel my way of seeing had started to change from listening so closely to what those two old painters had to say.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Catalogue Essay for Upcoming Exhibition at Edward Hopper House



Carole Perry, the Executive Artistic Director of Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY wrote the following essay for the exhibition catalogue for their upcoming show Philip Koch: Landscapes and Hopper Interiors. The exhibition runs Feb. 14 - April 12, 2015. There will be an opening reception Saturday, Feb. 14 from 5 - 7. All invited!


As an art student in the late1960s, Philip Koch (b. 1948) found inspiration in the geometric and color field abstractions of artists such as Josef Albers, Frank Stella, and Mark Rothko.  Koch created abstract paintings until, he says, “[Edward] Hopper came along and tapped me on the shoulder.”  With the ghost of Hopper as his guide, Koch turned his attention to the landscape and began to paint from nature in a realist style.

What he learned from Hopper, Koch says, “was to be relentless in pursuit of just the right idea to make a painting… Don't settle for anything less than extraordinary his work said to me."   Like Hopper, Koch starts a composition by sketching his scene on site.  He uses vine charcoal (a medium he is drawn to for its ability to render the nuances of light and shadow) to record his initial impressions, and then engages his imagination and memory to execute the final painting in the studio.


Since 1983, Koch has had 15 residencies in Hopper’s home and studio in Truro, MA on Cape Cod.  He has also painted in Hopper’s bedroom at the Edward Hopper House.  Spending time in the spaces inhabited by Hopper, seeing the same views and experiencing the play of light and shadow in the rooms and on the surrounding houses has provided Koch with a unique understanding of Hopper’s work and process.  Koch has used that understanding as a guide as he forged his own artistic identity. 

Edward Hopper once said that it took him 10 years to “get over” the influence of his teacher, Robert Henri.  Likewise, it took Koch some years to get past Hopper’s powerful hold on him.  It is not style, subject matter or technique that makes an artist unique, but how much of himself he puts into his work.  For the past 20 years or so, Koch has succeeded in putting himself into his paintings and telling his own story.  His modernist roots commingle with his appreciation for the 19th century landscape painters and their celebration of the natural world.  Koch’s paintings embrace that world, while continuing to discover the expressive qualities of color and light.

 

Koch, who works as a Professor of Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, makes regular sojourns to upstate New York and New England, following in the footsteps and painting the same views as the likes of Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, and the Hudson River School artists he so admires.  "Each generation" says Koch "needs a new image of what our earth looks like in our time. There will always be a need for landscape painters to show us where we live."  Koch shows us where we live, according to him.


Carole Perry, Executive Artistic Director, Edward Hopper House Art Center

Friday, January 9, 2015

Yellow Arcadia



      Philip Koch, Yellow Arcadia, oil on panel, 30 x 40", 2006

I've changed. 

Early on I painted the landscape by directly observing a specific place. With my paints and portable easel in tow, I'd head out seaching for sources that called out to me.  My paintings were reports on how an actual location looked and felt at a specific time.  I'm very proud of the work I did then. 

In the last decade and a half I've come to see landscape painting as a means to evoke more a state of mind than a particular location. Memory and imagination loom larger as sources as I paint.

My painting Yellow Arcadia is a good example. It's a favorite of mine and will be included in the upcoming exhibition Philip Koch: Landscapes and Hopper Interiors at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY Feb. 14 - April 12, 2015. 

In our imagination the word Arcadia has come to represent an idyllic and unspoiled wilderness. Alternately it's seen as a place where humans live in complete harmony with nature. Nature ultimately is the wellspring of all creativity. It is where we came from. I believe it's critical that we reflect anew on its importance.

I'm far from the first to chew on this bone. From 1833-1836 Thomas Cole, the father of American landscape painting, created his series of canvases The Course of Empire.  The second canvas in the series, The Arcadian State, demonstrates this view.