Could We Bring the Mountains Out of Arizona Please

Philip Koch, Sedona Mountain, vine charcoal, 9 x 12", 2003

Who are we ? is always the big question that art tries to answer. Trouble is it's too big.

Landscape painters break the question down into smaller pieces and tackle the fragments one at a time. Where are we? is a darned good place to start. Painters are extremely influenced by their surroundings, that's part of our job. I travel a lot in search of good material. Sometimes this gets me in trouble. Remind me to tell you the story of being taken in by the tribal police on a Native American Reservation to purchase a "Painting License" sometime. Other times you encounter things that feel a little too strange or foreign for you to know what to do with them.

The above drawing was done a few years ago in the Southwest in Sedona, AZ. The rocks there are world famous. I don't want to go back there for several reasons, but one of them was that while it was breathtakingly beautiful, it was too dry. I grew up back East on the shore of one of the Great Lakes. Winslow Homer was the first painter I ever heard of, even before Claude Monet. For the life of me, I need to either be near the water or think about water when I'm painting. So I did a series of drawing of the desert rock formations in Sedona and have been looking at them and wondering about them for the last seven years. My wife Alice keeps urging me to do some paintings from them, but I always respond "not yet."

Here's a second drawing of the same mountain-

Philip Koch, Sedona Mountain, vine charcoal, 9 x 12", 2003

And here below is a painting from just a few years farther back that's much more the sort of thing I feel at home with. It's painted in Wellfleet, MA near the landmark Uncle Tim's Bridge. (Edward Hopper did a nice watercolor from the island at the right, just about at the spot where it hits the right side of the picture frame). There were lots of mosquitos and gnats swarming around me as I worked. Redwing Blackbirds come and try to eat them. I'm used to that. It's the price you pay for painting tidal estuaries back East. In Sedona they don't have much in the way of bugs or birds. It is too quiet to paint there comfortably.

Philip Koch, Thicket and Marsh, oil on panel, 19 x 28 1/2", 1998

Underneath it all, I really like both kinds of sources for painting. It's just that I'm a lot more familiar and experienced with the wet version. I'm still chewing on this bone in the back of my mind. Sooner or later I'm going to figure out a way to combine these two very different worlds to make some new imagined landscapes. Maybe soon. Wish me luck.


  1. Wonderful drawings Philip. I use vine charcoal in the field and find it is just about perfect.

    We lived in New Mexico for five years (of course that's the high desert, so very different from AZ). It is beautiful. I painted it (and all over the West including AZ) but try as I might I couldn't make it mine. Now we live in an area which is similar to where I grew up (and also different) so I find I can use both memory/imagination and the actual landscape here as sources for my work.

    I'll look forward to seeing what you do with those drawings.

  2. Thanks Deborah,

    I was just looking at your handsome website. Seems to me you have a very "wet" esthetic too what with your love of misty atmosphere. The desert can be so darned crisp looking- even the darned mountains 20 miles away. I kept thinking I was looking at a diorama in a shoe box instead of at the actual landscape. Maybe if one was born in an arid climate one would do better at painting that part of the earth's surface.


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