Showing posts from March, 2014

A Winter Visit to Rochester's Memorial Art Gallery

Last week my wife and I were touring art museums in Western New York State.  After a wonderful visit to the Burchfield Penny Art Center in Buffalo,  we got the idea that Niagara Falls   would be beautiful in winter.  It was, but within 15 seconds of our reaching the railing at the top of the Falls, the wind shifted and blew the ever present cloud of spray all over us. This might feel great in the heat of August. On a day with gale force winds and temps in the teens, it was painful.  We regrouped and instead set out to visit my old hometown art museum, the Memorial Art Gallery  (MAG) in Rochester. For a museum in a medium sized city it has an amazingly strong Permanent Collection (and I am completely unbiased about this, despite MAG having purchased two of my drawings in 2012). Here's Alice standing next to one of her favorites. Thomas Hart Benton (Am. 1889 - 1975) Boomtown, oil, 1928 It's a large painting so I had to step back some to get her into the

Charles Burchfield and Me (Part II)

This is Part II of the short essay I wrote inspired by my visit to the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY last Friday... Burchfield came of age as a painter in a time when artists had the winds of modernism at their backs. They delighted in re-emphasizing the beauty of mark making on the surface of the canvas in elegant patterns. Burchfield to me took the best from the modernist toolbag and reinterpreted the tradition of American nature painting through 20th century eyes. And he was frighteningly good at it.     Charles Burchfield,  Early Spring,  watercolor, 37 1/8 x 42 1/4"    1966-67 His  Early Spring  strikes me as both felicitous and at the same time a solemn reflection on the difficult passage from winter to spring. At first the golds in the fields and in the budding trees strike the viewer. But looking longer one sees all this warmth sits atop a deeper layer of silvery cold grays and blue blacks. I think the sharply pointed dark shape in the center of the

Charles Burchfield and Me

This is the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC) in Buffalo, New York. I visited it last Friday for the second time this year. It's a special place for me for two reasons. It has the largest collection of works by Charles Burchfield (Am. 1893 - 1967) one of the artists who has most influenced me. Secondly it sits literally a few hundred yards from the spot where 48 years ago I decided to become an artist. Back in high school I had my life all planned out, or so I thought. Following the family pattern I would become an historian or a sociologist. But half way through my first semester at Oberlin College in Ohio I was miserable with my courses in my intended major and felt gloomily confused. I was the proverbial apple waiting to fall. At my first Thanksgiving break from Oberlin I traveled home on the Greyhound Bus to Rochester, stopping half way to spend the night with my old high school friend Steve at Buffalo State College. Steve and his new girlfriend invited me and t

Memories of John Constable, George Inness, and my Early Days as a Painter

Philip Koch,  Deep Forest Pool, oil on panel, 30 x 40", 2011 A lot of my paintings are based on memory, sometimes of a place, other times of just the feeling that a place installed in me.  A painting is never just what is seems. It comes with baggage, but often of the very best sort. After a few years as an abstract painter when I first started out I became intrigued with the 19th century painters who loved the landscape. John Constable and George Inness were two of the biggest stars to me then and I would consciously look for places in nature that reminded me of the sorts of things they liked to paint. But my own direct experiences played their role too. I was thinking about my love of painting ponds and tiny lakes that are surrounded by deep forests, something I have been drawn to for years. Years ago one afternoon I felt grabbed my nature's mysterious power. It wasn't a dramatic thunderstorm or anything like that, actually the opposite, something th

Final Words: 10 Lessons from Edward Hopper's Last Painting

My friend Anne McGurk got my attention when she posted Edward Hopper's last painting on her Facebook page yesterday. Titled Two Comedians, from 1966 it has always had a special resonance with me. Enough so that I found myself called back to look at it several times during the day.  Hopper was a legendarily private and remote person so it is ironic that his last picture presents two performers bowing (and saying goodbye) to their audience. Undoubtedly he saw himself and his wife Jo in these two costumed actors. His choice says to me he saw his life making paintings as a long performance, not unlike what happens on the stage. A play, or a painting, done right can reach down deep and stir the soul of the viewer. Yet the painter is not the same as his paintings anymore than the actors remain the characters  they portrayed after the curtain falls. To me Hopper's painting says "I've given my best performance. I hope you've like it." Every really