Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What Edward Hopper and Charles Burchfield Showed Me

At my gallery talk last Friday evening on my current exhibition at Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY I spoke about my development as a painter. Above is a photo taken before the crowd arrived of me standing with my painting The Voyage of Memory, oil on canvas, 38 x 38". That's a favorite of mine that combines some serious notes of my personal history with a tip of my hat to Thomas Cole, the great grandfather of American landscape painting. Putting elements like that together is a bit unusual in today's art world. There was a time when I wouldn't have had the temerity to paint like that.

Beginners start at the beginning. 

When I began painting it was in the then tiny studio art department at Oberlin College. I quickly pieced together what I thought were the essentials of the modern art story: contemporary art had evolved more or less in a straight line from the first Impressionists, then the Cubists, then the Abstract Expressionists. Armed with this reading of art history I honestly thought there was a correct style that all serious painters had to pursue.

After about a year of that I came to suspect I was missing something and began devouring art books in the campus art library. One artist I kept coming back to was Edward Hopper. I loved his shining bright sunlight and his long evocative shadows.

Edward Hopper, Rooms by the Sea, oil, Yale University Art Gallery

Now Hopper was somewhat confusing to my initial sense of art history. He had painted in a very different direction than the widely prevalent modernism. Yet he had a major show at the Museum of Modern Art and had had a big coffee table book on his work published. 

Hopper had been included in the historic Amory Show in New York City in 1913, the blockbuster exhibition that essentially introduced America to the waves of modernism that had been sweeping through the art studios of Europe. Hopper went to the exhbition and saw work like the Kandinsky and the Matisse pictured below. 

While aware of the shocking avant-garde paintings, Hopper just stuck to his guns and continued his straightforward version of realism. 

Another painter I fell in love with shortly after this was the watercolor artist Charles Burchfield. 

Charles Burchfield, Sleet Storm, watercolor, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY

He showed at the same gallery in New York as Hopper and the two were long time friends. He too was the subject of a major show at the Museum of Modern Art and had impressive looking books published on his work. Like Hopper, Burchfield was well aware of modernist innovations that were sweeping the art world. But he too seemed to value the flavors of his own imagination more. He painted in a way that acknowledged the traditions of realist painting but added an almost psychedelic imaginative twist. 

I felt painters like Hopper and Burchfield were doing something closer to what I wanted to do. But just as important their example gave me the courage to strike out on my own with my paintings. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Touring Edward Hopper House Art Center's Koch Show

In preparation for my Artist Gallery Talk this Friday evening (March 6 at 7:00 p.m., free) at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY I've been looking at my works that are hanging in their current show Philip Koch: Landscapes and Hopper Interiors. Here are some more images of works in the show with a little bit of background for each one:

Hopper's Beach, Looking North, vine charcoal, 9 x 12", 2007. I drew this with my French easel set up on the beach on Cape Cod Bay, right below Hopper's Truro, MA studio. This sand dune in real life is enormous and deeply impressive. Nonetheless, Hopper never painted it, preferring to search longer and more widely to find just the right sources to trigger his painting imagination. Working where Hopper painted over the years I've learned to respect his extreme powers of selectivity. In them is a key to making art that moves beyond surface appeal to achieve real depth.

Edward Hopper's Truro Studio Kitchen, vine charcoal, 8 x 10", 2012. This is Hopper's tiny dining table where he and his wife Jo would eat their breakfast. The door at hte right is the main entrance to the studio. It opens to let in the afternoon sunlight. The pattern of that sunlight and shadows has a surprise and asymmetry to it that I knew would make a beautiful drawing.

The Reach IV, oil on linen, 40 x 60", 2011. Done from memory combining images of the Truro, MA coastline with my experience as a boy sailing at night on Lake Ontario. Obviously I've changed the color and the intensity of the moonlight that illuminates the sailboat, but I believe the altered color achieves an accuracy of how such a sail would feel.

Sun in an Empty Room: Blue, oil on panel, 12 x 16", 2013. Painted in Hopper's second floor bedroom in his Nyack family home. This is how the light streams in in the early morning.

Truro Studio Kitchen, oil on panel, 12 x 16", 2014. An oil I painted in Hopper's kitchen focusing on the one dining table Hopper and his wife Jo would use. The lighting provides a completely different effect than the charcoal drawing of the same table and chairs posted above.

Uncharted, oil on panel, 7 x 10 1/2", 2015. A painting I did from the memories I have of growing up in the snow country of upstate New York. After a heavy snow the world seems made new. It beckons to us to explore it. 

Shortly I will post more of the work that is hanging in the Hopper House exhibition. The show runs through April 12, 2015.