Monday, April 25, 2016

Koch Invited for a 16th Residency at Edward Hopper's Former Studio

Photo taken by Philip Koch of Edward Hopper's
 S. Truro, MA studioi n the early morning sun.

I'm a fortunate artist. 

Over the past year I have been the Artist In Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY. On repeated visits there I've studied Charles Burchfield's painting and preparatory drawings at close hand as well as painted out in the landscape locations where he chose to paint. I've gained a far deeper understanding of Burchfield's methods and how his approach to the landscape changed over differnent stages of his career. Particularly valuable was a side trip I made to visit Burchfield's Salem, OH boyhood home.

Yesterday I received the invitation to have a 16th residency in the former studio of Burchfield's friend and fellow painter Edward Hopper in S. Truro, MA on Cape Cod. As an artist myself who originally was inspired by Hopper's work to turn from painting abstractly to working as a realist, the chance to work in the space where Hopper made so many of his world famous paintings has been remarkable. 

These two painters Burchfield and Hopper came to know each other because they showed in the Rehn Gallery in New York. Despite the marked differneces in the styles of their realism, they deeply respected each other's work.

Coupled with my experiences on the Burchfield Residency it's also led to some real discoveries about what each artist needed to best stimulate their very individual kind of creativity.

One is how differently these two realist painters approached their subjects. Both were deeply invested in direclty experiencing the landscape, often going for long walks or drives in search of material. Burchfield so often would find his material close at hand. He literally painted his backyard dozens of times in both Ohio and later in the Gardenville suburb where he lived the second half of his life. Often he would paint the interior of his home or studio, so window sills, closet doors and stairways became his major actors.

Charles Burchfield's painting of his Gardenville, NY studio, 
The Studio, watercolor, 1942. Collection
of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY

Hopper on the other hand seemed to relish finding subjects at a distance from where he ate his breakfast. With a few notable exceptions, almost all his work on Cape Cod was painted from locations at least a half mile or more away from his studio building. 
Somehow his painter's imagination got fired up better when he had more of a feeling of freshly discovering a new road or house he'd never seen before. Rarely would he paint the same place more than once, preferring to head out in his Buick to find something new to excite his eye.

Edward Hopper painted this subject a couple miles north of
his S.Truro studio. Corn Hill, oil on canvas, 1930, McNay
Art Museum, San Antonio, TX

Burchfield rather preferred the close at hand. Subjects often excited him more if they were familiar. Often he would paint the same building or yard over and over again, always varying his interpretation.

These two artists were blessed with abundant talents. For each of them one of those talents was the ability to recognize what way of working suited them best. They embraced it and the rest is history.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Cat Story Behind This Painting

Philip Koch, Lizzie's Day, oil on canvas, 18 x 16", 1980

Above is an oil I look at with wistful recollection. Hanging in my hallway it greets me when I come home. I did it on location in the Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore. I had started it during a string of exceptionally beautiful Fall mornings. It went well and I decided to add something to anchor the empty forgeground. I persuaded my then girlfriend Alice to model for me out at the park that coming weekend. 

When I met Alice she had emerged from a difficult period in her life and had even had a close call with a life threatening illness. Through these times she explained to me that she had felt the most comforted by, of all things, her cat Liz. Unfailingly devoted to Alice, Liz would always end up near her, offering that mysterious companionship that cats can be so good at. Liz of course would listen and to Alice's mind, Liz understood.

The same week I was working on the Arboretum painting Liz took seriously ill. Upon examination the vet was pessimistic but had us leave Liz overnight at his clinic for observation. Glumly we left and drove to park to have Alice model, both of us suspecting we wouldn't be seeing Liz again.

The autumn light that morning was shining down on us and the trees through a barely perceptible mist. It lent a quiet glow to everything it touched. It was quiet and stunningly beautiful and both of us felt comfort from that. Liz died the next day.

I wanted to somehow honor this small cat who had been such a confidant to Alice so I chose the title Lizzie's Day for the little canvas. Still have it as it has too many memories to put it on the market.

Three years later I did an expanded version of that painting. I wondered if I should also title it Lizzie's Day. Liz though was an authentic and modest girl. I think she would have wanted just one painting named for her. 

Philip Koch, Bright October Day, oil on canvas, 54 x 48", 1983
(Detail below)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Here Comes the Night

Charles Burchfield, December Twilight, watercolor, 1932-38
Wichita Art Museum

Edward Hopper, Automat, 1927, Des Moines Art Center

Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper, two of the giants of realist painting in 20th century America exhibited together in the same art gallery in New York and had a long term friendship. Despite the marked differences in their vision, they deeply respected each others painting. 

Both of them elevated times of day to play a key role in their paintings. Here are two paintings that focus on darkness- while very different each has its own intense poetry.  Ironically Burchfield's watercolor, while the spookier of the two, contains less black than Hopper's strangely empty storefront window. 

Intriguingly at the top of their paintings both artist employ a repeated pattern to create a recession into a far distance, Burchfield with his rows of low clouds glowing dark red and Hopper with his reflected saucer-like light fixtures.

Both artists are adept colorists. Wisely they make their highlights pulse with energy-  contrasting both warm hightlights and cool highlights against each other and creating a bit of magic. Burchfield lights warm yellows in three of his windows that feel ever so different than the pale band of light he streaks across his horizon. 

Hopper in turn ramps the light up way up, but plays off a whole range of yellows against an icy cool white table and an only slightly warmer white trim around his windows.

Burchfield and Hopper were known as outwardly reticent men. But deep within them burned an intense emotional fire. Each in their way had the visual resources to give us lifetimes of remarkable evocative work.