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'Philip Koch: Isle of Dreams' opens at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Philip Koch, Winter, 2021. Oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches.

OGUNQUIT, ME.- This exhibition showcases recent paintings and sketches by Philip Koch (b. 1948, Rochester, NY) which present ‘the island’ as subject and symbol. Koch turns to this subject in these depictions of Maine locations, such as Isle au Haut and Ogunquit, as well as in the more constructed views of Winter and New Day, also included here. He has stated, “Artists frequently return to paint the same theme again and again. Me, I seem to do islands. As a landscape painter, I've always been puzzled by my own lack of interest in painting the wide-open sea.”

For Koch, the connotation of the sheltering island has a direct connection to cherished memories of growing up on the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York and sailing with his father, who passed away when the artist was still young. He has described how cold and violent the lake could be. Learning to swim in such conditions was challenging and often ended painfully with Koch getting thrashed against rocks. A vivid, recurring dream for Koch includes “mysterious sheltering islands [that] arise just offshore offering protection from the rough waters.” When he saw the coastal islands of Maine for the first time as a painter, Koch was overwhelmed with the feeling that the protective islands from his dream had sprung into the world. Since then, islands have taken hold in his artistic imagination and occupy, as he says, a “front row seat.”

Upon discovering the work of American painter Edward Hopper (1882–1967), Koch felt an immediate kinship with the elder artist whom he credits as one of the reasons for his pursuit of realism. Affinities with Hopper may be seen in Koch’s bold use of color and light. The two also shared the conviction that the inner life of an artist is most fully expressed through paintings from experience and depictions of natural phenomena. In 1983, Koch befriended the present owners of Hopper’s studio-home in South Truro, Massachusetts, who invited him to visit and make art there. Since then, he has worked and stayed in Hopper’s house on Cape Cod a total of seventeen times.

Koch has made en plein air painting his primary mode of art making since he was a graduate student at Indiana University in Bloomington. While he continues to draw on paper with vine charcoal “in the open air,” he paints increasingly in the studio, relying more and more on these sketches. This shift has been accompanied by a turn towards greater painterly expressionism and imaginary landscapes.

This exhibition is organized for the Ogunquit Museum of American Art by Assistant Curator, Theresa Choi, and is made possible with support from Partners Bank and The Front Porch Piano Bar & Restaurant.

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