Showing posts from August, 2010

Mixing It Up

Philip Koch, The Sentinel, oil on panel, 28 x 42", 2010
I wanted to show you a little of my working process. Above and just below are two paintings I was working on just this morning. The Sentinel was begun a number of years ago from direct observation out in the town of Tomball, Texas (you may think I'm joking but I actually chose the location based on its name when I was looking at a map of the state. I confess my love of cats, including males, swayed me). I've moved back into the studio to finish the painting.
These days most of my moves come either from memory or my imagination. What I'm aiming at is a kind of painting that exists just a bit beyond the ordinary, as if perhaps I'm showing you the landscape as it might appear in one of your dreams.

Philip Koch, Northern Sky, oil on panel, 7 x 10 1/2", 2010
You'll notice the two paintings are radically different sizes. Northern Sky was completely invented in the studio with me imaging the a reverie of the d…

Davidson Galleries in Seattle

Philip Koch's White Light oil at Davidson Galleries in Seattle.

An old friend of mine (since my Cub Scout days!) was kind enough to send me some pictures he just took in Seattle's Davidson Galleries where I have one of my oils hanging in their August Landscape show. My friend became Robert Wetmore, MD (orthopedics) and has a practice in Waterbury, CT. Bob was out visiting his daughter Kate who's just had her first child. That's Kate with the new goods above. Congratulations!
Art galleries are a critical part of building the bridge between an artwork and a potential audience. As I haven't yet visited Davidson Galleries I was very happy to see some photos of it. It looks great. Here's an interior shot with my White Light in the distance. I like galleries like this that know how to present work in the right way- lots of breathing space between the artworks so the viewer can see them without distractions. High ceilings, freshly painted walls, and well-aimed lighting…


Philip Koch, The Voyage, oil, 18 x 18"

This is a small painting I made in preparation for a major studio oil. It's in a group exhibition Waterscapes at the Nichols Gallery in Barboursville, VA right now. I was looking at it on their website and really enjoyed seeing it again. It is I feel, an original painting.
This is an invented painting in the sense I dreamed everything up. But every aspect of it depended on the hours I've spent looking at boats, bays and shores, things that were prominent in my young life. And equally dependent on pouring over some work from artists who've gone before me.
I actually had an autobiographical idea in mind when I first started cooking this painting up. An image from my childhood that always stays with me is the little single sail cat boat my father bought when I was about eight. He took me sailing often and taught me how to navigate the thing on Lake Ontario. He was a slightly reclusive and profoundly taciturn man, and wasn't the so…

Looking Out, Looking In

Here I am in Acadia National Park in Maine getting ready to paint. I'm surveying the horizon to decide just what to include in the next picture.

And this is what greeted me this morning as I entered my studio. The night before I had been sorting out some oils on paper, deciding which to use as sources for new paintings.
These two photos reveal a lot about the creative process. First you go out and encounter the world. There's looking long and hard, and then mulling over what you've seen to pull out what's most significant. It's like human relationships- you meet hundreds and hundreds of people. You end up having something meaningful with only a handful of them. If you're lucky you've picked wisely and reap the benefits.
For a landscape painter, being outside is exhilarating but a little overwhelming too. It pours over you. But you make paintings and drawings out on location, catching what you can of the best ideas you find out there. I love to bring the small…

The Coolest Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art Explained

Sanford Gifford, A Coming Storm, oil, painted during the Civil War

My wife Alice took off from her job at the mental hospital yesterday and drove up to Philadelphia with me (actually she did most of the driving, but as women statistically are safer drivers than men, this is as it should be). We were headed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art which since it's in such an old city and got a head start on building its collection has almost an embarrassment of riches. It's one of those museums where there's too much to look at closely.
We took in the Late Renoir show, which impressed me a lot. Renoir was terrific at paint handling. Unfortunately they don't like you to photograph temporary exhibits where they've borrowed work (I suspect mean-spirited Dobermans are ready to be unleashed at a moment's notice on anyone who tries it). But no matter, as their permanent collection galleries are brimming with great stuff.
As a kindness, I thought I'd talk about the best pa…

The "Nature" of Art

Went over to the Eastern Shore of Maryland on Friday and stopped in at one my favorite museums, the Academy Art Museum in Easton, MD. Here's a picture of its main entrance. I'm not sure what the original building was built to be (meeting hall, church, school?), but its conversion to an art museum was beautifully done. I love the classy silhouettes of the old building. Hey, why shouldn't art come in an attractive package?
One thing I like to do some of the time is to look at art that is outside my usual realm. Brian Young, the Museum's Curator was giving a talk that afternoon on the Museum's recently acquired gift of 50 pieces of primarily minimal and conceptual art from the Vogel Collection. Brian is a real enthusiast for this branch of the tree of modern art, so I wanted to hear some of his stories about the art and how it found its way to the AAM. It is a very good thing to listen to people who have different ideas than the ones you hold. It shakes you up and fres…

Lessons in Restraint from Edward Hopper

Here's an oil by the famous 2oth century American painter Edward Hopper, Road in Maine.
Hopper was a bold painter, famous for his strong lights and shadows. But his genius more often lay in how he held back from high contrasts. Just as you need silence to appreciate a loud noise, you need quiet passages to let the drama that is there have a weighty impact. Here are some examples of Hopper's elegant restraint.
First, it's a mostly yellow painting (though in the form of yellow ochre-greens). The sky has blue in it, but not that much. Hopper has held back on the amount and intensity of his blue to keep the emphasis on the ground. The blues in the sky are knocked back into a subordinate role. I can't tell you how many times I've seen less experienced landscape painters paint vibrantly colorful skies that compete with the ground they've painted. Here Hopper says he wants you to look at the ground.
He gives us two hillsides and a valley. Look at the top edges of both …

What do gold and silver taste like?

Most of us understand tasting food far better than how to experience art. You only know if you like a food by putting it on your tongue. Nobody puts all their trust in the flowery description printed in the menu. Imagine a tour at art museum where a well informed docent takes a eager group into a gallery and proceeds to tell them at length about the art work that will soon be hung on the gallery's bare walls. No matter how entertaining, it wouldn't be much of a tour.
What is a landscape painting? That two word phrase doesn't tell you much at all. You have to look before you decide whether a particular piece speaks to you or not. You simply have to "taste" it.
Let me show you two new oil paintings of mine- both with lots of water, islands, and sky. They're both horizontal compositions. And both are lit from the sky. Beyond that they depart radically from each other.
Above is Northern Sky, oil on panel, 7 x 10 1/2". It's intimate and it creamy and butte…

Trip to the Academy Art Museum, Easton, MD

Atrium Gallery of the Academy Art Museum

Drove down to the Eastern Shore of Maryland on Thursday. You cross the high suspended bridge over the Chesapeake Bay and descend into another world from the Washington-Baltimore sprawl. It's rural and flat and perfect for agriculture, which they do there big time.
I was headed to the town of Easton which boasts the Academy Art Museum, an impressive institution I've watched grow since I first started visiting in the early 1970's. Back then it was a community arts center that was starting to acquire the beginnings of a Permanent Collection, but was still rough hewn.
One of the reasons I went was to attend the Annual Member's BBQ and I was able to meet the new Director of the Museum, Erik Neil, PhD. Erik, as the letters after his name imply, is an art historian. He's former Director of the Heckscher Museum of Art on Long Island and prior to that had run the art galleries at Tulane University. Running any nonprofit in a recession…