Showing posts from 2019

Inner Clearing / Inner Storms

Philip Koch, Penobscot Bay #1, pastel, 7 x 14 inches, 1999

Just before I went to bed last night I was looking at the above pastel for the first time in a long while. My first thought was that the drawing wasn't sure if it was about brightening sun or darkening storms. Then I decided that was its point.

Way back in 1999 my feelings had been hurt when a relative had forgotten to invite me to an important family wedding. Not wanting to sit home moping I booked a last minute flight to Maine to paint for a week in the coastline of Penobscot Bay.  

The area lived up its reputation for striking natural beauty. But Maine can be notorious for rain and gloom and the art gods had decided that was being to be the menu for that week. Every day it poured. 

Of course I was disappointed but I'd come prepared and was able to turn the front seat of my rental car into a makeshift studio, making a series of finished charcoal drawings of the landscape.  Later on these became pastels or oil paintings …

My New Painting of Hopper's Home

Philip Koch, Edward Hopper's Parlor, oil on canvas 32 x 24 inches, 2019
Where to great ideas come from for artists?
There are all sorts of answers advanced to that question. When we artists are at our best our hands seem to be guided by a part of ourselves that is just beyond our awareness. I'm convinced great art reaches deep into an artist's psyche to borrow images that have been echoing there since their childhood. 
This was driven home to me when an old friend of mine from my boyhood town of Webster, NY came to visit me. Seeing an array of my paintings in my studio he exclaimed "Phil, this is our old neighborhood." Actually I'd never painted in my old hometown. The paintings he was looking at ranged from scenes I'd painted not in Webster, NY but in far flung locales all over the country. Others were fanciful imaginary landscapes. Going around the room he named places we played as young children that these paintings echoed. 
Above is my new painting of Ed…

Edward Hopper's Famous Doorway: Personal Awakenings

My wife Alice didn't know I was taking her picture. 
She was standing last Fall on the deck just outside Edward Hopper's studio in Truro, MA. She had stepped out for a moment while I was inside lost in working on one of my paintings. Realizing she hadn't returned I looked out the door in Hopper's painting room that overlooks Cape Cod Bay. There she was standing still in a strong wind gazing off toward the horizon. Something about how the doorway framed her small figure grabbed me and I hurried to take her picture. 
A few minutes later she returned and told me she had reached an important decision. Alice is a psychiatric nurse. For several decades Alice had been the Director of a Partial Hospitalization Program at  a Baltimore hospital. It was a place for people who were in the most severe emotional crisis. Over four decades she poured herself into crafting the program into something that was remarkable. It is no exaggeration is say it had saved many lives. The work was in…

Three Things Edward Hopper Wants You to Know

Here's a painting the young Edward Hopper made in art school. Tomorrow I begin teaching my final class at MICA before moving on to being a full-time painter. Fittingly my class is Life Drawing class. Probably I'll begin the class by showing the students this painting.

In Hopper's oil above we can see him working to master the basic grammar that would serve him so well in his ensuing years of painting. His painting from the model offers us a host of lessons about about painting and about seeing itself. 

Here are three that I think are among the most important.

1. Color in reality is more unexpected than we think. The pinks and subtle oranges we imagine we're going to see in the model's skin are shown instead in a world of cool grays and gray-greens. Hopper sees her color as part of the overall mood of the light in the room.

2. Hopper walked around for awhile before starting his painting to check out all the possible vantage points. It's not the normal way to present…

Brandywine River Museum of Art- N.C. Wyeth Exhibition

N. C. Wyeth, Blubber Island, Port Clyde, Maine, tempera and oil on hardboard, 1944, Brandywine River Museum of Art

N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives, organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and the Portland Museum of Art (in Maine) is on display at the Brandywine Museum through Sept. 15. It heads up to Portland Oct. 4, 2019 through Jan. 12, 2020. My wife Alice and I drove up to see the exhibition last Friday. In a word it's super.

Sometimes we head into a show intending to spend more or less equal time with all the works. That didn't happen as I totally fell into the first two paintings I saw as soon as I entered the gallery.
First is the one above of a solemn rocky island adorned by a device the wall label identifies as a hydrographic signal. That signal lifts our eye up from the heavy mass of the rocks and gets us to look into the sky. 

At first I wondered why the signal and the several seagulls flying off to the left felt so right. Then I realized that if your string the s…

The Rhythm of the Studio

One of the mysterious truths of making art is an artist has to discover the working methods that click with their particular brand of creativity.  You have to try just about everything until you stumble upon what is going to work best for you.

Above is a photo of my studio this morning. At the left is the blocked-in foundation coat of paint for my new 36 x 54 inch canvas that's based on a smaller composition I made earlier this year Beneath the Pine (that I wrote about in the previous blog post). It's an unusually detailed first coat of paint for me. It took many hours of staring and mixing. 

At this point I am putting the new painting aside for a few days. My excuse can be I want to let it dry thoroughly before plunging back into it, which sounds all good and rational. But the real reason is more an "absence makes the heart grow fonder" phenomenon. I need to refresh my thinking and my eyes for the painting. 

Leaning against my other easel on the right in the photograph…

Growing Art Takes Time

Once when she was little I was showing my one of my daughters how I make my big paintings by building up layer upon layer of paint until I get the colors to behave just right. She asked "why don't you just paint the right color the first time? Then you'd be done real fast."

This is a detail of the 36 x 54 inch canvas I'm working on on my easel right now. It's based on the smaller oil below, Beneath the Pine, 19 x 28 inches, 2019 (at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art  in Ellsworth, ME). At this early blocking-in stage the painting has a flat look. But I'm just getting the lay of the land. Later on I'll be going back over 99% of its surface and repainting each area to give it a fine tuning. Some areas will need to be painted over 3 (or more) times to get them to behave properly.

I work with oil pigments in a wet-into-wet method that's made possible by the paint's slow drying time. Sometimes two adjacent colors need to contrast each other as sharply as p…

Pennsylvania Academy's Schuylkill to the Hudson Exhibition part 2

John Frederick Kensett, Hill Valley, Sunrise, oil on canvas, 1851
Last Friday my wife and I had a personal tour from Curator Anna Marley of the major exhibition she organized, From the Schuylkill to the Hudson: Landscapes of the Early American Republic, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I wrote a previous post about the the show's first pioneers of the American landscape painting movement. Their works were centered in Philadelphia, preceding the better known Hudson River School. This is a look at some favorites by later Hudson River School artists. 

The John Kensett oil above is a masterpiece of seeing. Kensett is renowned for his diaphanous brushwork. But he corrals his strokes into solid cohesive shapes with inventive silhouettes. Our eye gets a wild ride tracing the outline of the tops of his trees at the left and over the lines of the mountain ridges at the right.

Our responses to art are highly subjective, including mine. I know one reason I'm drawn to this beau…

Major Landscape Exhibition at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts / Part One

Albert Bierstadt, Niagara, oil on paper laid down on canvas, 1869
One of the things that sustains me as a landscape painter is understanding I am part of an historic movement of artists who took delight in our planet. Each generation of landscape painters adds their own contemporary voice to a chain of paintings stretching back hundreds of years. Especially in our time of impending climate crisis reigniting the deep strain of environmental sentiment that runs all through American landscape art is part of my personal mission.
This week Anna Marley, the Curator of Historic American Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, very kindly gave me and my wife a personal tour of her major exhibition From the Schuylkill to the Hudson: Landscapes of the Early American Republic shining a light on the earlier beginnings of landscape painting our country. Contrary to the usual understanding, Marley shows the much better known artists of the New York based Hudson River School…

Seeds from the Past

Philip Koch, Late Autumn Sun, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches 2019
Here's one of my recent paintings. Just yesterday I was redoing the final varnish coat to give it the smooth and continuous skin that I love to see on a painting. I lay on the varnish very carefully using a smaller brush than I have to so I can keep the thickness I'm applying completely uniform. It takes longer doing it this way. Often it lulls me into a contemplative frame of mind.
I found myself drifting back to the first summer I took my oils outdoors to paint from the landscape. It was at the end of my first year of the MFA Painting program at Indiana University. I had spent that year experimenting with all sorts of surreal looking approaches to making paintings about "the look of the world." I had relied solely on my imagination to make them but was feeling some extra note of authenticity had been missing.
But June beckoned full force and I found myself out searching for panoramas of the southern Ind…

Edward Hopper: Poet of Loneliness or Master Colorist?

Edward Hopper, Burly Cobb's House, South Truro, oil on canvas 1930-33
Every since I saw his paintings of bright sunlight and long, soulful shadows I've been a little obsessed with the work of Edward Hopper. It had such an impact on me when I was struggling as an abstract painter as an undergraduate at Oberlin College that I abruptly switched to painting realist oils. 
I know how we see art is profoundly personal- I tell my wife Alice that arguing about art is about as useful as arguing about whether of not artichokes taste good (though for the record, Alice is wrong and they taste bad). Still I'm puzzled about what art writers choose to say about Hopper. One thing they're sure comment on is loneliness or isolation. Well, I can see that, but for me his work resonateswith what I'd call solitude. But we project what we want to see onto his art. 

Hopper as a young man.

Almost nobody seems to want to write about how Hopper uses color. He's one of the best- right up th…

My Long History with the Pamet River in Truro, MA- Edward Hopper Country

Philip Koch, Bright October Sun, oil on canvas,  36 x 54 inches, 2019
All of us have places that somehow seem to have grabbed a hold of us. One of mine is the area near the mouth of the little Pamet River in Truro on Cape Cod. The above just completed painting based on this place has a long history. It stems from 1983 during my very first residency in Edward Hopper's studio (that lies just beyond the dark far hill in the painting).
Here's the smaller oil I worked from-

Philip Koch, Bright October Sun, oil on panel, 14 x 21  inches, 2019

I had begun this smaller oil on the fall 1983 trip to the Hopper studio. Shortly after arriving I explored the mouth of the Pamet and set up my French easel there in front of my favorite view. This is what came back home to my studio from that trip.

Philip Koch, Pamet River, South Truro, oil on panel, 14 x 21 inches, 1983

While happy with the painting I came to feel the one huge sand dune looked somehow lonely. I had a persistent itch to try to do…