Unbroken Thread: Nature Paintings and the American Imagination, the Art of Philip Koch

a:10:{i:0;s:327:"Guests assemble for the grand opening ceremony of the spacious Center for Trades and Energy Training on Irongate Drive in Waldorf

Exhibit at CSM’s La Plata Campus through Nov. 15

            From early training as an abstract artist, Philip Koch has transitioned to an exploration of 19th-century landscape using bold and vibrant colors. His deep emotional bond with the natural world of his youth comes through in his painting of an expansive New England vista and a solemn birch grove. These pieces and others in Koch’s traveling exhibit, now on display in Southern Maryland, reflect what the artist calls his happiest times.

Koch’s “Unbroken Thread: Nature Paintings and the American Imagination” will remain on exhibit at the College of Southern Maryland’s Tony Hungerford Memorial Art Gallery through Nov. 15.

“This is a very popular exhibit and we are very lucky to have it here,” said CSM Professor and Gallery Curator Barbara Stephanic on the showing of Philip Koch’s nationally traveling exhibition. “Philip’s enchanting landscapes add to the variety of works that our students have had the opportunity to experience this year.”

            Koch explained the inspiration for his work with CSM students during a recent gallery talk at the La Plata Campus Fine Arts Center. Looking at places he has been as a child, Koch said, “When I think about places that I have been happy, it will come to me in a setting. And I have chosen to set that into art.” Places he depicted are in New England, Cape Cod and Coastal Maine. “In a nutshell, I am painting the old neighborhood,” he said.

            Koch’s passion for art began in college during art history, a required course

in his sociology major. It turned out it was the only course that he looked forward to during his first semester at Ohio’s Oberlin College.  In his studio art classes the next semester, Koch made 70 paintings. “I’m a great believer in numbers,” he said, adding that in large numbers there were bound to be a few gems.

While a painter in modern, vivid styles, Koch studied 19th-century landscape painting and the Hudson River School of Painters whose brown-toned landscapes appear to take in the whole world with a depth of horizon that can’t be reached. At first glance, he said, they appear gloomy. Upon reflection he began to notice the depiction of light coming through the landscape and how the light influenced the space. Koch says that looking back at past works and applying his vivid modern style has been gratifying.

CSM art student Erica Hamilton, 19, of Waldorf enjoyed hearing the stories behind the paintings on exhibit. “It is always nice to have the artist present his work and hear his point of view rather than to read about the artist or hear what other people think. [The Gallery Talk] gives us an opportunity to see his personality, which is something you don’t get from just looking at the paintings,” she said.

For Baseae Hill, 18, of Waldorf, whose love for art began with crayons at age 7, hearing Koch talk about his work was inspiring. Hill is taking photography this semester and plans to be an art major. 

Koch grew up east of Rochester, NY, on the shore of Lake Ontario where he developed his love of nature and the sea. His grandfather was a photographer and inventor of Kodachrome color film process; his father was an optical physicist. Both worked for Eastman Kodak and “both were grumpy,” Koch recalled. Since the common factor in his ancestors’ vocations was photography, he surmised that cameras were contributors to their unhappiness. Consequently, he chose another path for himself.

Koch earned a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin and a master of fine arts in painting from Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. He studied at the School of Art, Syracuse University in 1967 and Art Students League of New York 1968-69. He teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

Koch, who works with fine charcoal from charred birch trees, pastels and oils, said, “Art is only meaningful when someone sees it. Art is just missing an audience.” His exhibit which includes pastels on sandpaper, continues at the Tony Hungerford Memorial Art Gallery through Nov. 15, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and during Fine Arts events.

For information on the exhibit and the Tony Hungerford Memorial Gallery schedule, visit www.csmd.edu/FineArts/galleries.

For information on Koch’s traveling exhibit, visit http://web.mac.com/philipkoch/Site/Home.html.

For information on Philip Koch and his thoughts on his exhibit at CSM, visit his blog at http://philipkochpaintings.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html