Showing posts from 2013

Philip Koch Work in Studio Visit Magazine

Above is the two-page spread on my paintings that appears in the new Volume 24 of Studio Visit magazine. Given that these two of my favorite paintings are reaching a broader audience I thought it would be good to tell a little more about them. In this post I'll take up the first one.

Inland, oil on canvas, 45 x 60", 2008  at George Billis Gallery, New York

The forests of inland New England are really dense. So much so that I often resort to searching out the clearing provided by a beaver pond so I can see more of a vista.
In the early days of American landscape painting small farms dotted New England. Painters of the Hudson River School like Cole and Church could set up their easels anywhere and likely find a panoramic view without too much trouble. That all changed with the expansion of mechanized agriculture in the Midwest. New England's rocky soil and hilly sloping fields made the going harder. A lot of New England farms failed and their owners made the trek to the cities …

Do Artists Have to be Depressed People?

Charles Burchfield, Christmas Scene, watercolor on paper,  1951, 32 1/2 x 24", D C Moore Gallery

Christmas time finds me musing on the question of gifts. Surely supurb paintings are gifts to us. And to paint them, artists have to be gifted. What do the talents of the best artists cost them? Maybe nothing.

Nancy Weekly, the Burchfield Penny Art Center's Head of Collections and Charles Cary Rumsey Curator wrote on her museum's blog a few days ago. She touches on the question of whether artists need to be damaged people to accomplish something great. 

"...a few days ago on December 12, "The Writer's Almanac" celebrated Gustave Flaubert's birthday (1821-1880) and among their selected biographical details and quotations, one rang out to me as appropriate for how to perceive Burchfield: Flaubert said: "Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work." There are so many people, who in my opinion, try to cast…

The Delicious Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple, watercolor, Edward Hopper
This Hopper was up at auction this last week (I didn't buy it). Found myself thinking about it and going back to sneak peeks several times over the last few days. There's its dazzling sunlight. Nobody paints bright sun better than Hopper. 
But he's also a master on other levels. For me one of the delights is the feel of his pigments. His paint is gracefully pulled over a smooth grassy hillside. But Hopper uses a more agitated brush describing the textures in the maple tree. Hopper is so good he gets these radically different surfaces to complement each other. Robert Barnes, one of my painting teachers in grad school once told me you knew a painting was good if you found yourself wanting to taste the paint. This one looks pretty appetizing. 
There's a mystery to paint surfaces. They can entice you in extremely different ways. Some artists make them dry and chalky. Others go for a more fluid look, rapidly drawing their brush through cre…

Back Home with Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper, New York Interior, oil on canvas, circa 1921, Whitney Museum of American Art (I have writtten about some of Hopper's compositional ideas in this painting previously here).

Every Thanksgiving we travel north to Rockland County, NY to see some of our favorite relatives.  While there we all went back to pay a visit to my old friend Edward Hopper's home in Nyack, NY. Our party enjoyed a tour led by Lee and George Mamunes that reminded me of a little Hopper story I had forgotten.

One of my favorites of Hopper's oils is the seamstress glimpsed through an open window seen above. Her pose is just perfect, nailing the look and feel of the woman lost in her task. So much of the emotional richness of Hopper's interiors flows from how he connected his feelings to the spaces that surround this figures. He seems to know their surroundings intimately. Often he did.

Here's a photo of the fireplace mantle in one of the front rooms of the Hopper House Art Center.

The rese…

Painted Palette Tree at Florence Griswold Museum

Philip Koch, Northstar: Griswold, oil on wooden palette, 12 x 8", 2013
Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut has an innovative way of celebrating the holidays- Christmas trees decorated with artist's palettes.
As a gesture toward their own history of artists painting panels for the Museum, they ask artists to paint on wooden palettes. I was invited by David Rau, Griswold's Director of Education, and Outreach to try my hand at one on one of their palettes. The Museum hangs them on Christmas trees inside their galleries. This is the 10th anniversary of "Miss Florence's Artist Tree."

Christmas decorations had a hand in turning me toward painting in the first place. At six I became something of an art critic. 

Back in the 1950's each year my family would receive a mountain of Christmas cards in the mail. I was handed a roll of tape and given the job of hanging them all up in our living room. Rising to the challenge, I found I enjoyed deciding which …

Little Lies

A 1914 watercolor by Edward Hopper.
As I was out this morning I was struck at the remarkable complexity of what we usually see in the world. Honestly it's a bit overwhelming to the eye, which is why we wear mental blinders most of the time. 
Artists give us energy by creating an "alternative universe" that is quietly simpler than reality. When it's done right, viewers are too busy drinking in a painting's energy to notice.
In the watercolor above for example, Hopper paints what in real life was a maddeningly busy rocky foreground. He radically edits out much of the detail (the bleached-out immediate foreground). He prunes it down, adding a powerful wind to the painting's sails.

Inland, oil on canvas, 45 x 60" at George Billis Gallery, New York
My own painting above also delivers a simpler reality. Its focus is the contrast of the vertical stripped-bare tree trunks against the rest of the painting.
Originally the trunks poking out of the water ran the whole g…

What Artists Need to Know


Real Power in Little Things

Philip Koch, The Song of All Days, oil on panel, 36 x 72". 
The most powerful paintings can speak quietly.
They must be subtle enough that you want to live with them for years- drinking in what you can when you can or ignoring them when you must turn to other things. If paintings came on with all the clamour of a rock star they might gather crowds quickly but over time the crowds would drift away.

Instead the best paintings call for your attention quietly. Heck, they only whisper. Yet their power plays out into your life for a long, long time.
The point of art is to make something rich enough that each time people come back to it they discover something new. There are Rembrandts like that I've been looking at for decades. He'll make tiny things that charm me, like the how one finger is painted with sharp staccato strokes while the adjoining fingers are softly smudged. It's been done so well you feel he's painted it exactly the way it had to be. Somehow Rembrandt …