Showing posts from January, 2011

Saying Goodbye and Saying Hello

This is my wife Alice yesterday out in Hagerstown, Maryland with my oil painting Beneath the Pine at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (WCMFA). We were there to attend a reception and the drawing for their annual Museum Raffle. They were giving away my oil to whomever had purchased the winning ticket. As it turned out it went to a dedicated Museum volunteer who I'm told has an excellent art collection. An artist can't ask for a better home for one of his children. But, we had to say goodbye to the painting.
It was an older piece I'd painted just a few hundred yards from my studio back in the 1980's. Then last fall I'd gone back into it to clarify the picture's color and to carve out a deeper space. As I've written about on this blog before, this working method seems to click for me. This time too I was able to boost the painting up to a higher level. So I'm sending it out into the world in the best shape possible. To my new collector, welcome abo…

Love Letters

Philip Koch, Great Dunes, oil, 36 x 72"

I woke up in the middle of the night with a clear thought in my head. It was like the old cartoon of the lightbulb going off. "The job of an artist is to find things to fall in love with."

Why I was thinking this at 3 a.m.?  I have no idea.

In a world rife with alienation, disengagement, and just plain numbness, we need some of the opposite- somebody showing us that meaning, excitement, and beauty are real things. They're vital to our well being. And curiously we humans seem to forget this all the time.

In mid eighties I did a series of major paintings of the huge sand dunes in Provincetown, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. In real life the dunes have a massive, looming peronality. My first painting was done from a distance and focused on the dunes' distinctive silhouettes (that's always a good place to look first). But the following year I went back and set my easel up much closer to the subject. From this viewpoint the ou…

A Peek in my Studio

Philip Koch, From Day to Night, oil, 6 1/2 x 13', 2011

In my studio there's a six foot wide oil on the easel titled From Day to Night. It's from a few years ago and has been "resting" after being in solo exhibitions I had at the Cape Cod Museum of Art and at the University of Maryland University College in 2003. That's a long time to nap. I keep a fair amount of my paintings in my studio. Many are completed, some are almost finished, there's a few I'm uncertain where they're headed, Oddly, these strange urges steal over me and I'll find a certain painting just calling out to me to put her on the easel and start working. And so it was last week with this From Day to Night oil.

Above is a small oil painting I did as an alternative to the composition of the sky in that large canvas. Sometimes you see a way to make a good painting better. One tip toes out on thin ice whenever one goes back into older work- there's always the chance you'll…

Dance Steps in Painting

I'm visiting some older paintings this month. The Philadelphia painter Josephy Sweeney inspired me to get my old 35mm slides digitally scanned, suggesting I try one of the commercially available scanning services  (as it's a nasty time consuming job). Just got back the first batch of scans and they're sending me back in time. 
Two of images caught my eye, above a vine charcoal drawing from of the tree outside my studio window just after a heavy snow, and below a 44 x 55" oil,a studio painting done from a smaller plein air study from a field north of Houston, Texas.
I grew up in a family with good people in it but with some real peculiarities- nobody was into music. I don't think I ever heard my parents so much as turn on the radio. Time passes, things change. Years later I find myself a painter. And I even like to dance.
Humans everywhere invented a culture of dancing even before they came up with written language. Buried in our shared psyche must be some wiring that…

Why I Paint the Way I Do

We find ourselves when we look at art. A painting is always a self portrait, both of the artist and of the viewer. Here are two paintings. One by the famous Pop artist Andy Warhol and the other by myself. I'll give you a minute to see if you can figure out which is which.
Way back in the late 1960's I was sitting in a modern art history class at Oberlin College and the top image (if you guessed that was the Warhol you're sharp as a tack) was being discussed by the lecturer, a then famous art historian who taught at the school. She made the expected commentary about how Warhol was holding up the mirror to show us our mass production corporate culture. And I got her point- honestly I think it was hard to miss. 
But then she said something further that really got my attention. She claimed that in addition to his critique of our society Warhol was creating a visually stunning painting with subtle shifts in the  colors between each soup can. This added an extra stratum of visual …

My Studio Cat Returns

Happily, my faithful animal companion, Fluffy, returned to my studio today. This is good as it felt lonely while he was away. Here he is waiting patiently by his bowl this afternoon. Now I am sure painting will go better once again.

More Photos from Edward Hopper's Cape Cod Studio

Here's a Hopper oil from the 1930's, Hill, South Truro, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. More than any other painting I know it captures the look of the area around Hopper's Truro studio in the years he lived there from the '30's until the '60's.  
I was asked to post the rest of the photos I've taken up in and around Hopper's studio and provide some commentary, and that follows. I now have all 36 such photos gathered together in one place on my website. That means you can visit the largest collection of original photographs of Hopper's studio online by visiting my website's Hopper Studio page.

This is looking at the Hopper studio from its north side. My wife Alice is walking up the path that winds its way down to the beach on Cape Cod Bay. Hopper used to walk down this path to go swimming, typically usually alone. A lot of the time it's really windy up on the top of this dune.

This is the view looking back up at the studio from that pat…

Edward Hopper Studio (popular demand) & a serious thought

My intention to say something about painting was interrupted by a couple of requests to post even more of the photos I took up at Hopper's studio on Cape Cod last September. I was going to refuse, but one particularly desperate Hopper addict kidnapped my studio cat Fluffy and won't return him until I post some more photos. I surrender...
Above are the steps leading from Hopper's garage up the steep side of the dune to the studio. We are looking at the east side of the structure. These steps are new, Hopper's were much more modest. For the life of me I don't know how they got the furniture up there in Hopper's day.

And here above is the main entrance to the studio that leads into the kitchen. It's on the south side of the house, and the shingle covered walls surrounding the modest landing are a new addition- in Hopper's day there was just a simple staircase.
OK, maybe now I can sneak in what I'd meant to write about (actually it fits right in). We'r…

For all the Edward Hopper Maniacs Out There

For all you people who are Edward Hopper addicts (trust me, I am one of you), I collected a large number of new photographs I took during my last residency at the Hopper studio on Cape Cod and put them together in the same place- the "Hopper Studio" page on my website. Most had been posted on blogs I wrote last year, but it seemed fitting to have them all together.

Hopper lived and worked half the year in this building he designed himself to be his working studio from 1934 until near his death in 1967.  
Many of the most iconic Hopper painting were made here. The studio exists pretty much the same form Hopper intended it. I know many are curious to get more of a grasp of Hopper the person and how he made his art. His beautiful yet modest studio lives on as a clue to this essential American genius.

All 18 of the photos were taken in September 2010 in the Truro, Massachusetts studio overlooking Cape Cod Bay. This was my 13th residency in the Hopper studio since 1983. Hope you enj…

Animals in my Studio!


I came downstairs this morning to my studio and this is the view that greeted me.
This is my cat. He is my constant companion when I'm working in the studio. Mostly keeps me company but rarely intrudes. Sometimes I wonder what he thinks about the paintings I'm making. Probably, as cats are such keen observers of what they see, he would have great advice for me about the paintings. So far though, he keeps his suggestions to himself, so much so that I've come to wonder if he cares much for painting at all.
Yet he's old and stiff- for him to drag himself over to the window and nose open the blinds to look out makes me realize he's a sensitive guy after all.  
Yesterday I had taken the painting I've been working on for weeks off the easel and hung it on the wall in my front room. And the cat, prophetically, is looking out the window, wondering what we should paint next. You have to admire that in a cat, this eagerness to always see what's coming around the next b…

White Spots Before Your Eyes

John Singer Sargent,  (American, sort of, 1856 1925) A Boating Party, oil, 1889
Here are three great oils I saw this fall in the RISD Art Museum in Providence, RI when I was driving home from my last residency in Edward Hopper's studio on Cape Cod. All three were painted between 1898-1900.
Paintings teach us about new ways of seeing. In the Sargent above, squint your eyes at the picture and see how its surface is mostly an overall grey-green tone. Popping out of that middle tone are a handful of bright white spots in the boating party's clothes. Not quite as dramatic are the small off-white spots of the sky.
Like someone hopping across a stream by stepping on a few exposed stones, Sargent positions his spots of white to create a distinctive rhythm. Imagine how the painting would collapse if the artist had allowed a lot more highlights to creep into his picture. It's a radical painting in that way.

Winslow Homer (American1836-1910), On a Lee Shore, oil, 1900

The next year Winsl…

Poison Ivy's Enduring Beauty

Late in September  we often take a painting trip to Cape Cod, sometimes to stay and work in the Edward Hopper studio in Truro. As we live in the mid-Atlantic area where summer lingers, the trip north is often our first big hit of Fall. Nothing looks as startling as the burning reds you see that time of year on the Cape Cod dunes. Trouble is, it's poison ivy. It's beauty is of a deep oily burnished red. You have to appreciate from afar. Above is a sample of that tricky little plant I took last Fall in Eastham, MA, the town where Edward Hopper painted his gorgeous oil Route 6, Eastham that I discussed in my previous post. 
I can think of other kinds of beauty that you can't just run out and embrace. Green plants can stare at the sun all day. If we try it, it can blind us. So instead we look at it obliquely, appreciating it by watching how it shines on objects and casts long shadows. Like sunlight, the same sort of attraction can hit you when you're looking at the work of …