Different Threads in my Studio

Philip Koch, Northern Sky: Orange II, oil, 15 x 22 1/2"

Philip Koch, Orchard, oil, 16 x 24", 2010

Above are two of the 21 oils on paper I just shipped off to George Billis Gallery in New York. Both were completed this year and are about the same size, but in mood and handling, they couldn't be more different.

Let me explain.

I've always loved going back into older paintings to see if I can't make them stronger. My batting average over the years of doing this has been pretty good- I'd say well over 90%. With odds like that how could you not keep re-visiting and re-arranging things. At the same time, it's critical that I maintain a sense of forward momentum too. So I like to be working on brand new projects too. As my color sense has evolved over the years towards more intense colors other changes have been afoot as well. I've stopped painting directly from life, preferring to work from vine charcoal drawings I've done outside, or sometimes out of my head. All these tendencies are clearly apparent in the top painting.

I got into this newer practice for color reasons (wanting to discover alternatives to painting so much of that yellow green that's actually outside), but this led to other changes as well. For one it pushed me into seeing more in terms of silhouettes and more simplified, essential forms. The new oil on paper Northern Sky: Orange II is a newer version on a small oil I finished just two weeks ago. I wanted to try it at a slightly larger scale before committing to a really large studio oil version, a little like warming up before a big athletic competition. Artists don't usually talk about practicing, but I think it's something we all have to do to be any good. We're not so different from athletes, dancers, or musicians after all.

Orchard, the other image above has a very different story. It began way back in the 1980's and was painted from life in the Bershire Mountains in western Massachusetts. Typical of those years, I was using a much smaller set of brushes and focused a lot of the differing patterns generated by the tiny individual leaves.

Never quite satisfied with it, I kept going back into it making adjustments here and there. Between changes, I'd hide the thing away in my basement storage racks so I wouldn't keep obsessing about it. It's good to forget about a piece in progress. It clears your mind to see it in the fresh way you need to to pull it together and finish it right.

Naturally the colors that had started out far more naturalistic started getting some of the newer color sense of my more recent years. The trick was to add the new changes yet keep them in an active dialogue with the older colors and details. I think it worked out pretty well.

Just the other day Jane Burns, Director of the Midwest Museum of American Art sent me copies of the handsome ad for their current show of my work the Museum had placed. It ran in the ArtsEverywhere section of the South Bend Tribune on June 25. She wrote to tell me they've had lots of people coming in to see the Museum and my exhibition. Naturally this made me smile.


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