Showing posts from January, 2013

Sewing Up a Composition with Edward Hopper

This is Edward Hopper's oil New York Interior. It has that casual, almost accidental pose to the figure that make you feel Hopper might have literally peered in through a window and seen just this. But at the same time the painting has that "just right" quality to it that suggests it is far from an accident. 
I've always loved pose of the arms and hair of this seamstress. It's easier to see if one isolates key sections of the composition. 

Here's the right arm. Look at how Hopper squeezes the empty space just below the woman's upper right arm by fluffing up that billowing white fabric she's sowing. Her arm and the uprising white cloth act like book ends pushing in on the empty brown space in the background. It's Hopper's way of instilling personality into the seemingly empty areas of his painting. He knew well that properly painted, every inch of his canvas could be made to speak to the viewer, stimulate their eyes and stir their emotions.

January Sometimes Is the Real Spring

Inevitably the theme of new beginnings is wrapped up in our notion of Spring. There's a famous painting by the Renaissance artist Botticelli called Primavera of the goddess of Spring appearing out of the sea carrying garlands of flowers. Most of you know it. To those of us who live in Northern climates, this is no small thing. But for me, when the snow and ice return, I always thing back to my own personal fresh start.

Way back in the Fall of 1966, after several years of feeling like I was holding my breath to get through high school, I left little Webster, NY and headed off to my Freshman year at Oberlin College in Ohio. As was the case for so many of us, high school was an awkward and sometimes difficult stage to endure. What kept me going was the thought I would one day leave home, get a fresh start, and everything would be better. That is exactly what happened. But, and it's a big but, not in the way I expected. 

I came from a long line of college professors and fully expect…

Carl Jung and What Seeing Has to Do with Art

Vermeer, Lady with her Maidservant Holding a Letter, 1667, Frick Collection, NYC
Sometimes it feels like a piece of art picks us instead of the other way around.

For years I had this painting by Vermeer stuck in my mind. I felt kind of uncool obsessing about such a pedestrian domestic scene. Yet I'd find myself thinking about the painting seemingly for no good reason. Art is primarily about psychology and the play of emotions in our lives. The question for painters is how best to foster that in the viewer. 
Some years ago I started studying the psychologist Carl Jung. (If anyone out there is in the mood for challenging reading, this is the place to go. The guy loved nothing better than to include long passages in Greek, German, and English on each page. I kid you not). But he makes a convincing case for the active hand of the unconscious in guiding our actions. 
Animals live guided by inborn impulses they don't understand but benefit from- such as being able to build a secure nest …

The Art Room

Philip Koch, Northern Pines, Morning,  oil on panel, 12 x 24", 2012

The artist Taryn Day writes an intriguing blog titled The Art Room that I believe many of my readers would enjoy. Taryn likes to focus on a theme for each month to organized her posts. Previously she had featured my work in a series she ran on the theme of windows.

This month she is writing about artists who write blogs themselves and invited me to contribute a few favorite paintings and some comments about why I chose them. And she added some choices of her own and gave some of her thoughts. So I'd like Taryn's blog post to make a "guest appearance" on my blog for today. Here is the link to her feature from yesterday on my paintings.

Strange Connections, Hopper, Harris and a Turn in the Road

One of the reasons I like being a painter instead of an art historian is I'm free to wander a bit more in my thinking. Artists love to make comparisons that jump from one artistic category to another. For example I was just looking at (alright, no surprise here!) Edward Hopper and the Canadian painter Lawren Harris (1885-1970). It hit me how the two, despite their difference in style, were instilling extra energy into their paintings with similar tools.  Here's Hopper's wonderful oil of his neightbor Burly Cobb's place, which was just over the hill south of Hopper's studio on Cape Cod. 
I love his contrast of the big, open areas of the shingled roof played off against the much more abrupt rhythms of the smaller oblique roof shapes and chimneys at the lower right of the painting. Hopper was a master of giving his viewer big massive forms and then contrasting them against something small, sharp and unexpected. Any painter can do that, of course, but Hopper binds the v…
Installation view at Friends School of Baltimore's Katz Gallery
BmoreArt Blog, "Baltimore's Contemporary Art Authority" as the masthead says, published an extensive illustrated interview yesterday on my current show at Friends School of Baltimore. Cara Ober, the Editor, interviewed myself and Ramsay Barnes from Friends School's Art Faculty about the background and themes in the exhibit. Usually I write my own material on this blog, but since Cara did such a nice job with her article, I'd like to urge my readers to have a look. Here's the link to the article. 
Now that all the heavy lifting is out of the way, here's a few more photos from what you'll see at the show. Up at the top is my big oil From Day to Night, accompanied by a group of smaller pastels,
Below is an earlier piece, Country Road, oil on canvas, 28 x 42".

And here is West From Monhegan, oil on panel, hanging with the vine charcoal drawing I made on Monhegan Island off the coast of Ma…

Color: A Chest of Treasures or Confusions

Philip Koch, Yellow Song, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 13", 2013
I can't think of a time when I've entered a gallery or a museum and have failed to glance first at the works that are in color. Maybe it's hardwired into our species? In any case, when savoring the delights afforded by any really well done painting, don't we all linger longest in its worlds of color. The irony is when paintings fail, it's almost always a color problem. Color is the ultimately mysterious ingredient it seems, ready to either delight us or bedevil us. An artist's color box can be a chest holding treasures, or it can more resemble Pandora's Box. 

Here is a new oil painting. I love experimenting with color. Very often I'll take a design I like, as in this vine charcoal drawing below and use it as a starting point for color explorations. The drawing was done this last June near the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine.

Song, vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2012


Paintings That Shouldn't Work But Do: Burchfield

An artist friend, Anne McGurk, who I've never met in person but who's got a heck of a good eye for paintings (disclaimer, she owns one of my oils, proving right there she has an elite sensibility) has put together an album of work by the American painter Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) that is just a hoot. I have to recommend it to you- here's the link.
It's got lots of images that I've never seen before along with old favorites. Burchfield is one of those painters who defies being put into an easy category. He draws from America's long tradition of romantic nature painting (Hudson River School, Martin Johnson Heade), adds in an enthusiasm for modernist shallow spaces, and seasons the whole thing with what I can only call a psychedelic inner spice. In other words, he doesn't look like anybody else. Burchfield has a knack for making paintings that break all sorts of rules of "serious" painting but somehow manage to work successfully anyway.
In the wat…

North to Lawren Harris Country

One of Canada's best painters, Lawren Harris (1885- 1970), continues to fascinate me. 
Partly it's my attachment to the North. I grew up on the shore of Lake Ontario near Rochester, NY. One of my parents had gone to school in Toronto and used to speak excitedly of that experience. When you're 5 and 6 years old, hearing there was "another country" on the other side of the water summoned up all sorts of imaginative visions. I used to climb to the top of the highest hill near my house and strain to see this strange place called Canada. One couldn't of course, but that just added to the intrigue.
Lawren Harris was the key figure in the early 20th century Canadian movement known as the Group of Seven. I learned about their work as my sister Kathy lives in Toronto and began sending me postcards of Harris's work early on in my painting career. 
Above is one of Harris' views of Lake Superior. I particularly like the water's surface with its otherworldly cold…

Drawing as the Artist's Compass

Who doesn't need a secret weapon?

Above is one of mine. It's one of my sketchbooks attached to a pedestal in my current show at Friends School of Baltimore. In the photo above my large oil Down to the Bay hangs on the wall next to a framed working drawing I did to help me adjust the silhouettes in the big piece (detail below). A working drawing is a quick way to test out a new idea before you make a major commitment to it. 

I do working drawings both before and during the process of making my oil paintings. Like a compass, they help you find your way when you're not sure which path leads you out of the forest.  

Here's a close up of one of the pages in the sketchbook on the pedestal. This is a drawing I did midstream as I was working my way incrementally towards finishing my oil Adirondack Lake: Red,  24 x 18", 2012.

The thing is ideas, good ones, come to us only when they will.

When they do come the trick is to be ready for them. If I have my paints and brushes ready …