Showing posts from May, 2011

Edward Hopper's Secrets About Drawing

When I was in graduate school at Indiana University I used to have a postcard of this painting pinned to my studioi wall. It's by Edward Hopper who was sort of a guiding saint to my art career even back then. It was funny as I had mixed feelings about the painting. It's titled Western Motel and it's from later in the artist's life. Even though I felt the figure  seemed a little uncomfortable on that bed, there was still something that kept drawing my eye back to look at the painting. Here's a preparatory drawing Hopper made to figure out how to do the oil painting. 

As you can see it's really different than the final result. But one thing that hasn't changed is his commitment to using an oversized window to give the viewer a panorama of mountains in the distance. His painting became about that window and how it evoked a hard won balance between the interior space and the outer world (a personal theme that's always cooking away in the background for all o…

"How to See" by Rockwell Kent

(photo courtesy Scott Ferris)

Here's a wonderful oil by Rockwell Kent, Early November, North Greenland, that I was fortunate to see in the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art a few years back. If you haven't seen this museum with its special focus on the art of New England, rest assured it's well worth a visit. (The painting was loaned from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia).

It's ironic I stumbled over an image of this piece just this morning while in my studio I'm working on a painting of mountains in Vermont. What draws me to Kent's painting is the sharp, crisp light blasting its way over these looming mountains and ice bergs. It reminds me ever so much of being a boy playing among the massive ice hills that would form along the shore of Lake Ontario as the winds drove the splashing water up onto the shore. Successive layers of new ice would coat whatever lay below forming mysterious hills and caves that reached way over our heads. It was a ma…

Edward Hopper- Looking Out

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning,  oil on canvas, 1950,  Smithsonian American Art Museum

Above is a painting I've loved for some forty years. I'm fortunate to be able to see it often as it lives in the SAAM in Washington, D.C. . This painting contains a real clue to Hopper's art. I visit there often as it helps me learn how to see better.

Often writers will talk about the loneliness of Hopper's paintings or how his figures feel isolated and rarely interact with one another. While there is some of that in Hopper's painting, it begs a question-
why is Hopper's art so widely loved? I'd offer a couple of answers. First, he's one of the most talented painters and was able to invent visual equivalents for strong emotions we humans experience as we live our lives.  He saw color combining in unexpected ways and offered up generous servings of the most delicious color combinations. Yum.

Usually, as in the SAAM's Cape Cod Morning above, when he paints a figur…

How to Paint Cats

OK, I'm being silly with my title for this post. I went down to Washington, D.C. to the wonderful Smithsonian American Art Museum yesterday, perhaps my all time favorite museum. 
Above is a detail out of one of SAAM's holdings, titled Man with a Cat. It's a portrait by Cecilia Beaux (1855 - 1942), an American painter who was a contemporary of John Singer Sargent. I believe it is reproduced often to meet the insatiable demands of the cat-loving art public (of which I am a member).
Born to a wealthy Philadelphia family that owned a silk factory, her mother died at age 33 after giving birth to the future artist. I've always imagined the family dynamics must have been pretty tough for Cecilia after that. Perhaps it gave her extra determination and pluck as Beaux went on to be come an amazing artist and one of the best known female painters at a time when women were almost entirely dismissed as artists. 
Beaux knew her stuff. Let's look at the detail of the cat for a momen…

Upcoming One Day Landscape Painting Workshop July 23

The Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia is showing my eight museum traveling exhibition Unbroken Thread: The Art of Philip Koch July 23 - August 2. There will be an opening reception and a brief artists talk Friday evening, July 22.

Coupled with the big show of my landscape drawings and paintings, the museum will have me teach a one day landscape painting workshop. Regular readers of this blog are familiar with many of my ideas about the landscape from its philosophical significance to more practical concerns like how to connect one's drawing skill to oil painting. I hope some of you can join us for this workshop- these are always a lot of fun to teach and I know my students alwasy come away stronger painters.

Here the information from the Peninsula Fine Arts Center's website. Here's the link to their site.

$100 Pfac member / $125 non-member

Instructor: Philip Koch

Students will study what to loo…

In the Adirondack Mountains

In many ways art is like a particularly vivid dream- it feels so real when you fall into its grasp.

Here's perhaps my favorite oil by Asher  Durand, one of the key Hudson River School painters. Usually he busied himself lovingly painting forest interiors. Sometimes his studies of trees almost feel like portrait paintings. But this one is atypical as the rocks get the starring role. He's down in the gorge painting the Ausable River in the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York State.

Because Durand wanted you to have a deep experience of his river he didn't just paint what he saw. Instead he had to first envision the scene in his pictorial imagination. He had to see it in different terms than it really was. In a way he had to make a better gorge than the one nature had provided him.

Now this was a really hard painting to pull off. Potentially the rocks could have all competed with each other for our attention (as they do in so many other less successful paintings). But …

How Michael Jackson Influenced my Painting.

A few years ago the contemporary art world was making a big fuss over the artist Jeff Koons. Above is his ceramic sculpture Michael Jackson and Bubbles. The prevailing wisdom was that Koons was making a tongue in cheek sculpture that broke lots of rules about what constituted "serious" art. Some art critics said Koons was exploring the monumental role played by entertainment celebrities in our culture like Michael Jackson. The scupture was a reference back to renaissance pieces of the Madonna holding the Christ child. Replacing Christ with Bubbles the Chimp was meant to illuminate the withering influence of religious iconography in our lives. So some said. 
I suppose one could say this sculpture is "so bad that it's good" with its strenuous attempts to go with over the top cheesiness. For many in the art world, one's ability to "get it" with Koons' work was a badge of honor. You had to be very sophisticated to like such stuff. 
Below is another …

Is It Blasphemy To Criticize Famous Artists?

Drove up to Philadelphia yesterday as I realized the Philadelphia Museum of Art's "George Inness in Italy" exhibit is closing next week. A serious Inness lover, I didn't want to miss it. More on that later.

In another nearby gallery were some of the PMA's showpieces of 19th century American landscapes, including the above western panorama by Albert Bierstadt. He's in all the art history books. While I've always admired his patience and descriptive skills,  my favorite examples of his work are very small oil studies that are only a few inches wide. This one above must have been six feet and have taken him months cranking away in the studio to finish. To me it's one of those paintings that looks best when one stands so close to it that you can't see the entire canvas.

Here's it's neighbor, a painting I've written about before on this blog, an oil by Sanford Gifford. Comparing the two is instructive and makes Gifford look good in my opin…

Making Sense of Color

Above is a new oil painting, Monhegan Dawn: Emerald I just completed. It's 6 1/2 x 13", fairly modest in scale.  I chose that because I wanted the freedom to experiment with colors that aren't the ones I routinely pull out of my toolbag. 
On a smaller scale I'm much more likely to adopt a playful attitude. Working goes quickly so you tend to fall into a "what the heck, let's see what happens if I..." frame of mind. Specifically I wanted to try cool greens for the water's surface and contrast that with cooler violets for the rocks. While neither of these hues was present the day I worked plein air from the location, they evoke a powerful feeling I have about the place. 
Color after all is about the chords of two or three hues sounding together. Artists have to paint for years before they do their best work. It takes this long to learn to see chords of color rather than individual colors apprehended one at a time.
Below is the vine charcoal drawing from 2…

In The Garden of the Muse

It's ironic that we find it so hard to say something meaningful about the arrival of Spring. This week I was out driving somewhere and the sudden eruption of fluffiness on all the trees hit me with full force. The world seems to be getting another chance. In a way there's nothing more important, Yet at the same time I realized as much as its magic was moving me, I had no special new words to convey how this stirred me. 
When words fail, humans have usually reached for their art and music to help. Above is a detail out of the Italian renaissance artist Botticelli's famous celebration of Spring, Primavera. The woman seems to me curiously modern and very beautiful, almost like she exisits outside of time itself. 
Last year when spring rolled around I was nursing a back injury that prevented me from doing much in my garden ( and finally sending me to physical therapy, which worked beautifully. On the spot  turning me into a believer that Physical Therapists can sometimes work mi…