Warmth of a Frozen Memory


Philip Koch with his painting Chestnut Ridge 
Panorama, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, 2018

In June of 2015 I began traveling to Buffalo, NY as the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s Artist in Residence. One of the first places I went to paint was Chestnut Ridge Park, miles south of Buffalo, an area where the artist Charles Burchfield did some of his landscape work.

I loved the view from the Park’s overlook facing north- miles of forest and fields leading towards Lake Erie. The Lake at this distance was just the thinnest band of silver-white but it exerted a surprising pull on me. Sometimes you will see something that catapults you back in time.

I grew up on the shore of Lake Ontario in the then rural town of Webster, NY. A school bus would take me on a half hour long tour of the rolling countryside every morning and afternoon. Usually I rode lost in my daydreams. But there was one spot on the route where I’d rouse myself so as not to miss the view. As the bus crested the top of a particular hill it offered a me stunning glimpse of Lake Ontarios’s wide expanse framed by a field and dense woods. It never failed to excite me and leave me feeling that the world was something to celebrate.

That the Chestnut Ridge panorama evoked a powerful response in me suggested a major painting was in the offing. I did a whole series of drawings from the overlook. On canvas I tried out a number of compositions. Over many months of painting though I kept cutting away the middleground spaces-it became clear what I was really interested in was the far lakeshore itself.

Similarly I worked through a progression of seasons- what started as drawings of summer changed on my canvas first to autumn color and then honed in on full blown winter. In the begining I’d been working closely from my drawings but gradually relied more and more on memory and imagination. Not surprisingly my strongest visual memory of the lakeshore was playing with my friends in the huge and strange sculptural shapes formed by the lake water as it froze. We used to call these the “ice mountains.” It was perhaps a dangerous place to play, I’m surprised we never slipped and fell into the icy water. But always I felt transported as if to another world. To this day the memory remains a springboard for my imagination.

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