My Painting as a Museum's Art Lesson

Philip Koch, Spring Frontyard, oil on canvas, 45 x 60 inches, 1989, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, MD

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, MD is running a series of art lessons for children using images of works in the Museum's permanent collection. Kellie Mele, who directs the WCMFA's Education Dept. originated what she calls the Art A Day Challenge and yesterday (by coincidence my birthday!) built a lesson around my large painting in their collection, Spring Frontyard. Here's a link to the Challenge.

Spring Frontyard  is a major studio painting I made based on a smaller oil painted on location in my neighborhood in Baltimore. I grew up in a new "California Modern" style home but coming across this older white house I fell into a fantasy if what it might be like to have grown up there. My childhood home was in a deep forest. I chose a point of view that similarly sandwiched the painting's white house between two dense bank…

Before Realizing What I Was Doing

The Roof, oil on canvas, 20 x 14 inches, 1980.

Sitting at our dining room table yesterday my wife looked up and remarked about three of the four oils I had just hung on walls. "They're all pictures of home" she exclaimed. This hadn't been my plan, I just pulled out canvases that I felt like looking at.

Truro Kitchen, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches, 2018.

But I had to admit she was right. Without realizing it I had selected paintings of houses I'd like to live in. Places where I'd feel safe. In this time of a frightening virus, my unconscious was guiding my selections. In Truro Kitchen above the painting shows the tiny kitchen Edward Hopper designed for himself on Cape Cod. In the morning sunlight it's amazingly cozy- the kind of place we'd all like to be just now.

Houses on the Hill II, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 niches, 2020

We carry with us through our adult lives a sense of "how things are supposed to be" that forms in our childhood. I grew up in a…

Warmth of Art in a Cold Troubling Time

Philip Koch, Edward Hopper's Parlor, Nyack, oil on canvas, 32 x 24 inches, 2020 (at Somerville Manning Gallery, Greenville, DE)
You know things are bad right now. 
Something I've learned from decades of making art is as I develop my painting somewhere I'm going to hit a roadblock.   It's not fun to have to let go of your plans. But I try out some alternative solutions. Pretty soon something works.
In our personal lives having difficulty hit you over the head can hurt. If you don't let that pain blind you often that sharp collision scatters a few sparks of opportunity.  With your normal routine upended you have a chance to look at things with fresh eyes.
Here are two of my paintings. At first they look unrelated. The interior above is an oil of the artist Edward Hopper's boyhood home. The living room has heavy wooden planks for floorboards that were layed down in the 19th century. They show they've been scuffed and gouged over the years but were built to last. T…

Looking Back / Going Forward

I was turning out the lights for the night last evening in my studio a half hour before it became 2020 and memorialized the moment with a photo. We're supposed to be celebrating new beginnings but on my easels are two paintings that are about looking back. 

Sometimes when you can brush the dust off a memory you see its glow is brighter than you had remembered.

On the left is new version of an all time favorite oil that had been damaged in transit and now belongs to a collector (see the last image in this post). I was at the collector's holiday partly last week and seeing the painting for the first time in years. Despite some cracks in its surface it looked even better than I remembered it. I was surprised how much I missed the painting. Woke up the next morning and realized I needed to paint a new version of it. 

Other times something that was never quite resolved from the past calls for you to fix it. On the easel on the right is my a canvas From Day to Night. The composition ha…

The One Thing Charles Burchfield Wants You to Know

Charles Burchfield, Bright Winter Day, watercolor circa 1917

My friends at the Burchfield Penney Art Center posted this watercolor on their Facebook page the other day. To me it's a delightful celebration of the world- dazzling sunlight and a swirling profusion of conflicting patterns. Even with everything playfully leaning over to the right you know it echoes how the scene made the artist feel.
It's a watercolor the painter Charles Burchfield made of the view from his front porch in his hometown of Salem, OH. There's a  certain frame of mind Burchfield had that left him open to possibilities that are too easy for us to miss. This painting wants to tell us there's often something extraordinary just beneath the surface of this seemingly ordinary street. 
Burchfield's watercolor has a special impact on me as I know the place he worked from. I traveled to Salem when I was the Artist in Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center from 2015-18. With  my easel set up in h…

Opening a Door to Yourself

Philip Koch, Truro Studio Door, oil on canvas,  48 x 36 inches, 1995
We find hints of ourselves when we feel moved by the art of others.
This was painted from a smaller oil I made on location in the large painting room of Edward Hopper’s Truro, MA studio. 
I’ve been so fortunate over the years to have been given unprecedented access to Hopper’s Truro studio. When one is there you’re inevitably drawn to the windows and this doorway that line the west side of the house. All offer this view of Cape Cod Bay. It’s striking to see.  But for me it also felt familiar as the view reminded me of my boyhood home on the shore of the open waters of Lake Ontario.
It’s funny what can cause you shame when you’re seven or eight. There were two things boys in my neighborhood had to do to be “one of the guys”- ride bikes and play basketball. I was lousy at basketball. And after a hard fall on an early attempt to ride a bicycle try as I might I couldn’t master keeping my balance on a two-wheeler. When basketb…