Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mansard Roofs I Have Loved




Philip Koch, Mansard Roof, oil on canvas, 22 x 44 inches, 2017

Last Thursday evening I put the final touches on my latest painting (above). Then on Friday morning I viewed an Edward Hopper painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent exhibition that reminded me how Hopper's influence has often steered me in my choices of what to paint. 

When I was a kid I'd see these mansard roofs in the old sections of downtown Rochester, NY and wondered about them- they seemed radically different than the California-modern house I was growing up in. To my young eyes they were unfathomably old and mysteriously exotic. But even then I had to admit they created a more striking silhouette against the sky than more ordinary buildings.

My painting stemmed from some drawings I made on location in Buffalo, NY as part of my being Artist in Residence at Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC). Tullis Johnson, one of BPAC's Curators told me that the building Charles Burchfield had used as the centerpiece of his famous watercolor Rainy Night was still intact in downtown Buffalo. So on a frigid January afternoon I hurried down to see the old structure. It was too windy to work outside but I was able to make sustained charcoal drawings of it through the windows of the adjacent Public Library branch.




Charles Burchfield, Rainy Night, watercolor, 30 x 42 inches
1929-30, San Diego Museum of Art


Burchfield's painting deftly used the low hanging clouds to catch the strange greenish glow that reflects up from the city's lights. But the looming shadowed building itself has a eerie personality. It seems likely Burchfield chose this building not for its age but for how its network of interlaced shapes would provide his painting with a deepened note of emotion.



Edward Hopper, Haskell's House, watercolor, 13 1/2 x 19 1/2 
inches, 1924, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Kathleen Foster, the Curator at the Philadelphia Museum who organized the American Watercolor show writes in her catalogue essay about Hopper's choice to paint subjects that were some 50  years old even in his time. "Hopper had no nostalgic agenda. Attracted by the complex sculpture of the the house, its dark and light patterns of window and sunlight, he simply enjoyed confronting the quirky palimpsest of the American landscape."

The American Watercolor exhibition continues through May 14, 2017.

P.S. You can see a selection of the preparatory drawings made by both me and by Charles Burchfield from the building in Buffalo at my earlier blog post.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Vanishing Sand Dune- Edward Hopper and Me


Philip Koch, From the Camel's Hump, oil on canvas, 42 x 72 
inches, 1983, private collection

I painted this large oil from a small plein air painting I made during my very first stay in Edward Hopper's former studio in S. Truro, MA.  The view is looking south at a panorama of Cape Cod Bay. The light is just after dawn. In the foreground is a strange feature- it's the hole in the ground where the distinctive dune pictured below once rose up. It was something of a landmark in Truro, known as the Camel's Hump.


Edward Hopper, The Camel's Hump, oil on canvas, 1931
Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY

That natural feature caught Hopper's eye during the second summer he and his wife Jo stayed on the Cape. He waited until the late afternoon's slanting light emphasized the dunes impressive volumes. To my eye it is one of his finest paintings and a keystone of the Permanent Collection of the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY.

Unfortunately an over-eager contractor bulldozed the distinctive dune away to build the foundation for a new house. He had neglected to get the necessary building permits so construction was stopped. But the damage was done.

Hopper's viewpoint for his painting was beside the driveway that would be put in a couple years later when in 1934 he and Jo built the studio where they would live half of each year for the next three decades.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Saved from a Cloud of Stinging Beasts!



Philip Koch, Dune at Paine Hollow, oil on panel, 13 x 26 inches, 1984

There is a very funny story associated with this oil. I was up on Cape Cod in June of 1984 painting in the Paine Hollow area of S. Wellfleet, working from a tidal inlet off of Cape Cod Bay. Things were going well for the first hour or so when the wind shifted and a cloud of tiny black flies descended on me. I toughed it out for another 10 minutes but the swarm overwhelmed me and I raced back to the car with my painting. When I got back to the rental cottage I looked in horror at the wet painting’s surface which was covered with the tiny bodies of the insects.

I asked my daughters if they’d like the job of removing the bugs if I paid them a penny for each insect. They were young enough that to them this was serious money. Armed with palette knives they began meticulously picking off the critters. They were taking their task very seriously so I left them to it and took a shower to get the remaining bugs off of me.  About a half hour later they proudly came and found me, announcing I owed each of them $3.00. It would have been more they explained, but that they felt bad for me- after each of them had reached 300 carcasses they threw in the remaining 64 bugs for free.

The painting survived surprisingly well, having only hundreds of tiny white scrape marks where each bug had been removed. As the paint was still wet I carefully smoothed over as many of these marks as I could without destroying the overall brushwork. The piece ended up with a surface that was slightly more agitated than usual but I liked how that reminded me of the whole experience.