Showing posts from 2015

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum on Christmas Eve

The holidays are a time to get together with good old friends. My wife Alice and I decided to drive down to Washington, DC to our favorite museum. The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) has an enormous and unrivaled permanent collection. We've visited it ever so many times that many of my "old friends" are to be found hanging on its walls.
They have the best angel painting ever, Abott Henderson Thayer's Stevenson Memorial.Can't help myself, just love that painting for how  it sounds its contemplative and slightly melancholy mood. That's me soaking it up.

Here's an old friend, Edward Hopper, who people never think of as a celebratory artist. Here's his Ryder House, to me it's a stirring hymn to the brilliance of sunlight on a white wall. Its light seems to pulse with its own clear energy.

Look at how the artist pushes the highlights on the sunlit grasses down way darker than the whites on the house. He knows you can only give a few of your highlig…

Is Making Copies Too Old School?: Charles Burchfield

Philip Koch oil copy of the left 1/3 of Charles  Burchfield's Early Spring Sunlight from 1950.

I was documenting paintings in my studio this morning. Two pieces needed labeling that I made during my first two stays in Buffalo this year as the Artist in Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC). They were copies of my favorite sections of two of Charles Burchfield's watercolors from BPAC's Permanent Collection.
My claim to fame is I am the only human ever to directly make copies of Burchfield watercolors in oils (I tell this tongue in cheek). It's a dreadfully old school thing to do.  Burchfield Penney Art Center indulged my whim. They were trusting enough to set up first Burchfield's Early Spring Sunlight (1950) and then his Early Spring (1966-67) on an easel for several days each for me to examine them and copy from them.

Charles Burchfield's Early Spring Sunlight on BPAC's easel at left. At right Koch's French easel with the beginning of his…

Painting a House Edward Hopper Loved

Philip Koch, Turret House, Nyack, oil on panel, 9 x 12, 2015
I have been traveling to Buffalo, NY frequently this year as the Artist In Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. While there I go painting in the some of the locations where Charles Burchfield found subjects for his landscapes. Burchfield loved nothing better than studying his immediate surroundings. An unassuming neighbor's house or an empty field could inspire him to paint poetic and universal images. 

Burchfield's example reminds me of his contemporary and friend Edward Hopper.  Like Burchfield, Hopper went looking for magic right in the old neighborhood. 

Over Thanksgiving I returned to Nyack, NY the town where Hopper was born and lived until he was nearly 30. The area around the Hopper family home (now the Edward Hopper House Art Center) is nestled along the banks of the Hudson River. Below is a house that particularly caught young Hopper's eye.

It is on Loveta Place, four blocks from Hopper's home…

There is no camera around when I paint.

Here's my new painting Uncharted II, 30 x 40", oil on canvas. I'm letting it dry on my studio floor until it's ready for me to brush on a protective coat of picture varnish. 

It's a painting I made entirely from my imagination. A friend asked where it was done. I told them really nowhere- I wasn't so much after a location as a state of mind. 

When I'm painting there are no cameras or photographs around. That makes my process a little different than the big majority of realist painters today. It's ironic as my grandfather, John Capstaff, was the inventor of the world's first commercially available color film (Kodachrome).

I don't have anything against cameras, but to me the real subject of a painting is the vision an artist has on the inside. That's notoriously hard to photograph. The point of art is to emotionally stir the viewer. If they feel in a different place after they've looked at your work you've done your job. A good piece of …

Wonderful (If Slightly Haunted) Houses at the Burchfield Penney Art Center

Here's a conte drawing by Charles Burchfield with a remarkably delicate touch. While it's heavily detailed the drawing seems light and airy, almost like Burchfield made the paper breath with life. 
I've been meaning to post these two photos I took of it last month when I was staying at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC) in Buffalo, NY as part of my being the Artist In Residence there for 2015-16. The piece is from the Art Center's Burchfield Archives and is really large- though I didn't measure it it's easlily well over four feet wide. Burchfield made it on several sheets of newsprint paper he had glued together.

Going through hundreds of Burchfield's drawings in the museum's Archives I periodically come across giant drawings like this one. I asked Nancy Weekly, BPAC's Head of Collections and Charles Cary Rumsey Curator, about this. She felt Burchfield would sometimes make preparatory drawings at the same full scale he intended to use in some of …

A Fresh Look: Burchfield and Me

Above is my vine charcoal drawing, Darkening Cove, 8x 12" and a freshly painted Darkening Cove oil, 24 x 36" I based on the earlier drawing.
When I was invited to be the Artist In Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC) in Buffalo, NY for this year I imagined it would lead to some unexpected benefits. One I didn't foresee came from examining the museum's impressive holdings of Charles Burschfield's drawings. Burchfield did tons of drawings, many in preparation for his wildly imaginative paintings. His drawings made a deep impression on me..
Returning to my Baltimore studio from my October stay at BPAC  I was struck by a vine charcoal drawing I'd made back in 1997 of a tidal marsh near Edward Hopper's studio in Truro, MA. The drawing had led to an oil painting some years later. Fresh from the recent BPAC experience, my original drawing whispered at me to go back into the oil painting. With many freshly repainted passages, the oil has new wind in…

Going Painting with Charles Burchfield in New England

Philip Koch, Isle au Haut: Gold, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 13", 2015
As the Artist In Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY (BPAC) for 2015-16 I've been pouring over Charles Burchfield's paintings as close hand. It's been influencing how I see. 

Working on my oil painting above this week I had in mind the yellow and gray color chords I enjoy so much in a watercolor by Burchfield like the one below.

Charles Burchfield, Sunshine During a Blizzard, watercolor, 1947-59

Last week I was in New Hampshire in the White Mountains. Previous trips to this area found me drawn to making vast panoramas of the most distant mountains. This time to my surprise it was close-up views of trees that grabbed me.

Philip Koch, vine charcoal drawing, 9 x 12", 2015
I find incredible lace-like rhythms in the New Hampshire forest.

Philip Koch, vine charcoal and white chalk drawing, 12 x 9" 2015
Even in this panoramic view below I ended up focusing less on the looming dist…

Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent: Painting Blackhead

In 2006 I first visited Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine. The small island has earned a special place in American art history from  the steady stream of artists who followed the advice of their charismatic teacher Robert Henri to go there and paint. Two of the best to take the advice were Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent. Both spent important time early in the 20th century painting on the island. The commanding promontory Blackhead that stretches eastward out into the Atlantic inspired both of them make repeated paintings of it.

The first four images are all small oil studies Hopper made of Blackhead. The final four paintings are by Hopper's art school classmate Rockwell Kent. Though the temperament of their paintings differ, what the two shared was an almost obsessive willingness to create painting after painting of a motif that obviously fascinated them. There's a sort of driving youthful energy to their engagement with Blackhead. 

By their actions th…

Ghosts in the Closet

Charles Burchfield, Salem Bedroom Studio Feb. 21, 1917 Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY
Burchfield Penney Art Center posted this Charles Burchfield watercolor on their Facebook page.
Who doesn't remember worrying as a young child about supposed ghosts or monsters waiting to creep out of your bedroom closet in the middle of the night. (Under my bed was full of them too). Leave it to Charles Burchfield to take this normal childhood terror and turn it into serious art. He took his childhood sensations with him into his adult life. Using his profound knowledge of painting and his good eye he gave these emotions permanent visual form. 
His painting above takes a cloth draped over a chair and seems to turn it into a ghost. In his hands the clothes hanging in the closet become creepy spectral accomplices. 
In August my wife Alice and I traveled from Baltimore to the Salem, OH family home where Burchfield grew up and began doing some of his most important early work. It is now the B…