Showing posts from April, 2010

The Reach

Philip Koch, The Reach, oil on panel, 24 x 36", 2010
There's a half-sensed image that starts calling to you before you begin a new painting. It comes part from one's immediate experience and part from long buried memories that for reasons of their own have begun to stir again.
Years ago during one of my stays at Edward Hopper's studio in Truro, MA, I walked south along his beach on Cape Cod Bay. There was an amazingly beautiful rhythm to the tops of the sand dunes and I wanted to see them close up. As I walked further I was startled to come across a seal that just died and now lay high up the beach where the high tide had deposited her. I say just died because she seemed perfectly intact, really more like she was sleeping than permanently still. What struck me was how beautiful she was, with a rich coat of multicolored fur and the most delicate eyelashes and whiskers.
Though it was a brilliantly sunny afternoon, the stillness of the seal and the quiet of a deserted b…

Going to the Fairy Ball

This is a photo my daughter Susan just took on her phone of her daughter Nora getting her costume ready to go to a "Fairy Ball" themed party with her little friends. Nora is totally into this Cinderella type fantasy of silks, ribbons, shiny stars and magic wands. She's just turned four and there's been a remarkable transformation. She's suddenly infatuated with the romance of these new "girlie" sorts of themes. Figurines, stickers, castles... the works. She's having a ball.
In a lot of ways, artists are really four year olds. We love nothing better than plunging into our private reveries and fantasies to see if they can be mined to make art. When I was exactly my grand daughter Nora's age, my family moved to a then remote forested hillside on the shore of Lake Ontario in New York State. To my young eyes, it seemed like we'd gone to live in some as yet undiscovered new world. It felt to me totally untamed and wild. At night I'd hear animal…

How to Teach Your Children to Hate Art

If you'd like to teach your children to hate the fine arts, I recommend taking them on a trip to one of the really big museums, say the National Gallery of Art or the Metropolitan Museum. Start in the galleries with the big bright splashy abstract paintings and sculpture and systematically work your way through all the galleries, going backwards in time until you hit the cases showing the fractured shards of Etruscan vases. If you find you've skipped any galleries, go back and hit them, as you don't want to miss anything. If you can arrange for one of your kids to be hungry, so much the better.
Obviously, I'm talking about culture as a forced march activity. It cannot be that. While the huge museums have their place, I think you get a bigger bang for your buck at the smaller museums. Art after all, is about some things that are subtle and mysterious- rhythm, balance, flavor, mood. You absolutely can't take these things in with a shovel. One of the smaller museums…

Good Times at the Phillips Collection

My wife and I went down to Washington, D.C. yesterday to visit the Phillips Collection, the lovely small museum in a residential neighborhood that bills itself as the first museum in the country dedicated to modern art. We were there to see their Georgia O'Keefe: Abstraction show up through May 9, 2010. It's a collaboration between the Phillips, the Whitney Museum, and the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, where my old friend Barbara Lynes is the Curator. The show is very good and I would highly recommend it to anyone.
The Museum guards are told to not let visitors photograph work that isn't part of the Phillips' Permanent Collection, so I wasn't able to show you views of the O'Keefe show. But there is enough other stuff up that there's an embarrassment of riches. It's pretty hard to feel slighted. Above is probably the Phillips' most famous work, Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir.
French impressionism has been so famous for so long that contemporar…

Good News About Edward Hopper's Legacy

Philip Koch, Edward Hopper's Rooms by the Sea, oil on canvas, 42 x 63"
Above is a painting that's something of a love letter to the painting below by the famous American realist painter Edward Hopper. It's titled simply Rooms by the Sea and lives in the Yale University Art Gallery. When I was a teenager I saw this Hopper's oil reproduced in Time magazine and thought it was strange, but also pretty good. It was the first Hopper image I'd ever seen.
Little did I know back then I had just met the man who would have the biggest single influence on my career as a painter.

Hopper's painting is a fictionalized version of the corner of his painting room in the studio he had built for himself in 1934 out near the tip of Cape Cod in South Truro, MA. In a lot of ways its a hymn to the beauty of the sea and the famous Cape Cod light. My own painting is more naturalistic and is a bit more faithful to the actual arrangement of the doors, the sunlight, and the water. Con…

Putting on Your Chef's Hat

Here's an older painting of mine I've always liked a lot. It's The Roof, oil on canvas, 20 x 14" and was painted from life just down the road from my studio in Baltimore. I live in a very hilly section of town and love being able to look down on a roof top. The real engine of this painting is the contrast of warm and cool colors against each other. Obviously the big decision was that the architecture would be cooler than the foliage in the background. The forest in back acts like a giant trampoline that bounces your eye back to the front if you wander too far into the distance.
The trick with color is that one has to see many colors at once, much like hearing chords in music. I wanted to keep the architecture always cooler than the leaves, but still vary its temperature vigorously. It's always a question of a color balancing act.
Here's the large palatte in my painting studio that I bragged about in my last blog post.

One of the secret weapon a painter can use i…

Morning Light in my Studio

Wanted to share the moment with you.
I walked into my studio this morning and was struck at how beautiful the natural light streaming into the space was. Usually I don't show people my work until its done, but this is more a glimpse of the whole working environment. I spend a lot of time right here, standing in the same spot mixing colors in endless combinations. Painters get very fond of their tools. When the magic is working right, they become extensions of your hands and ultimately of your ideas.
If you click on the photo you'll see it enlarged, revealing the lovely little row of fresh white oil pigments. They always remind me of Hershey's Kisses that came in a shape I decided was just perfect when I discovered them as a child. Here on my palatte they look ready and raring to go.
As I do a fair number of large studio paintings, I store my pigments on the small palatte to the right and do the color mixing on the larger palatte to the left. It's a large masonite board …

Steamy Bedrooms

I was asked by a student to do a slide show on Toulouse Lautrec, who's an artist I confess I'd never paid all that much attention to. His most frequently reproduced images are commercial lithographs with mostly all flat shapes and no natural lighting. So I'd usually tended to graze at the other end of the meadow looking at the work of artists closer to my own way of seeing.
But I was pleasantly surprised at some images that were new too me. Here's one above that's down right steamy. I like the way Lautrec covers the whole canvas with a deep red hue and then has a white blouse and some distant white sheets literally pop out of the composition. The artist first creates an all-enveloping darkly romantic, atmosphere for this amorous couple. Now that I've seen such a rich environment, anything less sensuous would be a terrible let down.

The second painting couldn't be more different in mood, even though the bed seems to have the same red comforter on it. Has any …

Another Gem in Maryland: UMUC's Arts Program

This is Le Danseur Noir, a bronze by James Earl Reid. I like its marriage of muscled strength with a lightness and elegance of pose. I think we'd all like to look like this guy.
It is included in the current show of the University of Maryland University College's Arts Program. I've been involved with UMUC's Arts Program for many years. They organized my current seven museum national traveling exhibition. UMUC has for many years had an active mission to collect, document, and exhibit art from the state of Maryland. As a Maryland artist, this tugs at my heart because nobody else in the region is doing this. And UMUC does it very well.
The current show is dedicated to one of the key forces that started UMUC's Maryland Artists Collection, Doris Patz. Speaking as a totally unbiased Maryland Artist (who has three pieces in the Collection), I think this an extremely worthy project. Consequently I've volunteered on the Arts Program's Art Advisory Committee as its lo…

The Course of Our Lives

Many years ago when I was an undergraduate student at Oberlin College, I made a new friend friend Larry Farmer who hailed from Oklahoma. I liked him a lot, not the least for his steady stream of homespun aphorisms. One day in talking about something or other he used the phrase "still water runs deep". Though this saying is common enough, this was the first time I'd ever heard it. The mental image of a current of change running unseen just below the surface struck me as a profound mental image. Still does.
Above is a painting by the artist George Inness of the Deleware Water Gap, where the Delaware River (of George Washington fame) cuts through the Appalachian Mountains. The channel has widened and deepened enough to allow the surface to calm even though thousands of gallons of water pass by every second. Inness paints a rainbow that has appeared, presumably after the downpour that replentished the water's flow. I think the painter hints that this placid river comes w…

The Element of Surprise

One of the best reasons to get out of bed in the morning is to find out what's going to happen during the rest of your day. I'm happy to report that I'm up and downing coffee right now to prepare for whatever the day has to offer.
Life is rich because it surprises us. We strain to see what's coming up at us just around the bend up ahead. And always reality presents herself to us little differently than we'd imagined she would. Artists earn their keep when they take this spirit of the unexpected to heart.
Above is one of my favorite paintings in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It's by George Inness, the wonderful late 19th century American painter who hung out all over New England and then, of all places, New Jersey. Still wherever he worked, he found something unexpected to tell us.
This oil would be a typical forest interior except he does something so unusual with it. One would expect to be invited to tip toe deeper and deeper into the forest a…