Philip Koch is part of the Living Legacy Project at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Click here to listen to his artist interview.
Philip Koch was born 1948 in Rochester, NY. Philip Koch never intended to become an artist. When attending Oberlin College as a sociology major, he discovered his interest in art. While taking an art history class that was a requirement his first semester, he was so intrigued, he switched his major to studio art. He attended Oberlin College, graduating with a B.A. in 1970. In 1972, at Indiana University, he graduated with a M.F.A. Philip Koch is best known for his landscape paintings. In his earlier works, he based it on plein air oil studies. Showing naturalistic color and more detail than his later work. Since the early, 1990’s, Koch used soft pastel chalks for color studies and began to work more in the studio form vine charcoal drawings he had executed outdoors. His work tended towards brighter color and less detail.
A former abstract artist, Koch was inspired by the American realist Edward Hopper to change to working in a realist direction. He has a studio located in Cape Code, MA that he has used for 30 years. Since 1983, he has been granted 15 residences to stay and work in his former studio. This was a studio that Hopper produced many of his world famous images. "What I learned from Hopper's example more than anything else, was to be relentless in pursuit of just the right idea to make a painting. Hopper's studio is surrounded by all sorts of lovely views that ordinary artists would consider sufficient, but for Hoppe they weren't good enough. Don't settle for anything less than extraordinary his work said to me" says Koch.
Koch is the great grandson of John Wallace, a Scottish landscape painter, and the grandson of John Capstaff, the inventor of the first commercially available color film, Kodachrome. Despite his family link to photography, Koch is committed to working from only direct observation or from memory rather than painting from photographs. 
Koch as taught painting at the Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington from 1972-1973. He also taught painting and drawing at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Thirteen American Art Museum’s hold Koch paintings in their permanent collections. Koch 14th solo art museum exhibition was held in the Washing County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, MD. He has also had solo museum exhibitions at the Saginaw Art Museum, MI, Peninsula Fine Arts Center, VA, Cape Cod Museum of Art, MA, and more. In May 2015, Philip Koch became the second Art-in-Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
"There's a mysterious extra dimension that comes when you take your easel out into the field. To paint well you have to hear the wind rustle through the trees.
We all came from nature. When we give her our sustained attention, she in turn allows us to reach the most emotionally resonant place within ourselves. My job as a painter is to reach that place and make paintings to share it with others." 
In May 2015, Philip Koch became the Burchfield Penney's second Artist-in-Residence. Learn more about this project and follow Philip on his year-long journey on Facebook and Tumblr.
 Philip Koch http://www.askart.com/artist/Philip_Koch/11008287/Philip_Koch.aspx
 The Art of Philip Koch http://www.philipkoch.org/Artist.asp?ArtistID=38693&Akey=S457VDH7
Philip Koch is part of the Living Legacy Project at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Click here to listen to his artist interview.
LLP Artist: Philip Koch
Interview date: June 2, 2015
Transcribed by: Jordan Anthony
Transcription date: 7/22/2020
HG: This is the Living Legacy Project at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. And it is June 2, 2015. And I'm here with Philip Koch. Philip Koch our second Burchfield artist-in-residence. And so, we're kind of having a non-traditional but still on point interview about Philip and his background, and the ways Burchfield has influenced his life. Phillip, thank you so much for being here with me today.
PK: Thank you. Good to be here.
HG: So, Philip, first, I guess the question is, you know, where do you live now?
PK: Now? Now I live in Baltimore, Maryland. I'm a senior professor of drawing and painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
HG: Phenomenal. But you were raised near Rochester?
PK: Yeah, I was born and raised in Rochester actually grew up on the shore of Lake Ontario and I used to go skiing in Western New York near some of the places where Charles Burchfield used to paint. And I think one of the big influences on me as an artist was where I grew up, soaking in the landscape. It's pretty wild out here.
HG: It certainly is. When did you first experience Charles Burchfield’s work?
PK: Oh, it’s very interesting. My first exposure to Charles Burchfield’s work was in graduate school, where one of my friends was a Burchfield nut. And I at that time was just moving from being an abstract painter to becoming a realist. And I had fallen in love with 19th century American realistic landscape painting. And I didn't like the very low-quality Burchfield reproductions I saw in the few books that were available at the time. In the intervening years, I've gone 180 degrees, and realized that those books did not do Burchfield justice. And this was a guy who was barred up the same tree I was. And I'm smart enough to realize this is a guy that could teach me a lot about how to get to where I want to go.
HG: So, is it safe to say that it's been decades that you've been appreciating and looking at and being inspired by the work of Charles Burchfield?
PK: Yes, decades, one of the things that got me interested in Burchfield was actually his friend, and fellow Ren gallery artist, Edward Hopper, who was the really the first real artist I paid attention to. And I started reading about Hopper and found out one of the very few friendships that he maintained was with this wild-man, Charles Burchfield. What intrigued me about that was that Burchfield’s work was so different in style and spirit than Hopper’s, but that Hopper’s are really really big, deep quality in it. And that made me think, well, gee, this is somebody maybe I really should take a second look at. The other thing about Burchfield is that he is somebody, a very approachable artist, he's such a celebrator of what it looks and feels like to be alive. And, gosh, that's something we need more of. And I think his work is kind of infectious when you start looking at it, getting to know it.
HG: What I've experienced since, you know, first learning about Burchfield years ago as an undergraduate at Buffalo State [SUNY College at Buffalo], and in my time since working here, is becoming close with or experiencing Burchfield’s work in depth changes the way you experience… changes the way I experience nature. I look at a grove of trees now, and I envisioned the way he would paint it or I can easily see you know, his interpretations of it, or a certain cloud formation, really many cloud formations I see just his depictions in the sky, and granted, I'm not an artist, so I'm not seeing my own interpretation. Or how I would be inspired by that through my art, in that I'm mostly just seeing these other outward depictions and interpretations of it.
PK: Well, I think what you're hitting on is one of the big nails that goes right to the core of art. I mean, art is there for a very good reason, like music. It's intended to reacquaint us with our whole personality, with our sensual side. I think the way we live nowadays, in the workaday world, we tend to get very, very channeled and overspecialized, and in some ways, we think and worry too much. And I think what art and music are about, and certainly the work of a celebratory painter like Burchfield, is saying, “Wait a minute, slow, down, stop, look around and see how incredibly strange and unexpected reality really is. It's much richer than we the way we usually think about it.” Burchfield is an interesting fellow because he's not just a happy smiley Disney artist. He's also a man who really wanted to look at the scary side of nature, who's a man… I think he was very willing to look at his fearfulness, as well as his exuberance. And that's, I think part of being fully alive, that he could make it something substantial that you'd want to look at for generations. It's interesting. Heather, I could not agree more about him teaching us how to see, you know, art, visual art, which is, you know, the part of the art world I have some expertise in… I think. It's a language that's built up over hundreds and hundreds of generations, and every generation teaches the next generation. How to see. Burchfield saw differently than the 19th century artists that I was of the Hudson River school that were news to me when I was a graduate student coming from 60s, pop-oriented abstract painting, I learned how to see nature of fresh looking at Hudson River school paintings. And when I finally got to see good birch fields in person, I realized that he was chewing on the same bone with those old people, and in some ways was closer to how I felt and how I saw, and certainly putting on a pair of glasses, putting things into a sharper focus or focusing on different things that had been going. by me. That's why I think art makes people happier is that it reacquaints them with who we really are. And that's why there's always going to be a place for that's. That’s why there will always be landscaping, for example, because where we live is so much a part of who we are.
HG: And that certainly comes out in your work as well.
PK: Yeah, it's funny, I never intended to be a landscape painter. I mean, gosh, if you had told me in height when I was a high school senior “Philip, you're going to become a painter and you're going to become a landscape painter,” I would have laughed so hard because I knew exactly who I was. Well, I was going to be a sociology professor, because I was very interested in social problems. And I had a lot of academics in my family. And it was sort of expected by the family, I would do that. Fortunately, my great grandfather, who of course, I never met was professional landscape painter in Scotland, and we had some of his paintings in my house. So, there was probably more openness to the idea that one could be an artist than in the average family. But I didn't like my great grandfather's paintings because they were dark and scary. And I was a kid, I like things that were shiny and new. I went off to college, though, dreadfully serious and ready to achieve, and I signed up for a requirement to Oberlin College in Ohio. I signed up for a required art class… art history class to get it out of the way so I can get on with what I was seriously interested in studying sociology and history. Well, I couldn't stand any of my classes, except for the art history class. And so, I might be the only guy in history to have been positively affected by a required class. But I'm so grateful that they made me take this class, because it was the one that took.
HG: It changed to scope dramatically.
PK: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Funny thing. It was a big lecture class, but it had a once a week discussion section that met occur in the art building across the hall from the schools one painting studio. I had never seen an oil painting studio, but because I didn't take art in high school. And discussion class was very long. We had a break, and I smelled this really interesting aroma from this Room across the hall with a closed door. So, I went in during a break. And it was a room full of easels and wet palettes and I, I was amazed how messy it was, and how intriguing it was. And I thought, “oh, people do this?” And I said, Sure, I'd like to try this.
HG: Do you primarily work in oils?
PK: I primarily work in oils, and I do a ton of work on paper. Drawing, for me is a huge part of my process. Usually, I draw many preliminary, usually inviting charcoal drawings on good etching paper ideas to make paintings. For many years I worked outside with a portable easel in oil direct from nature. Over the years though, I found that I was more interested in my imagination and my ability to invent and in some ways, it was more helpful to work outdoors in drawing medium. Do studies outside, bring them back into the studio? And then look at them there and think, “gee, how can I use these? How can I put these together? And how can I take them to a slightly better place than they are in their original version?” You know, it's funny. In the old days, they called it ‘nature’. It's called ‘reality’ now, but it's a big mother, it tends to take us over. And in some ways, I think, especially when you've trained yourself to draw through direct observation. It can make you too conservative. It can make you to dutiful and turn you into a reporter. Because it's so much bigger than we are. It's going to be there after we're gone. It's possible to I think, get intimidated by it. I found working indirectly the last 20 years working from drawings that I do outside and working in stages like that. It's very helpful. So, I have several thousand finished drawings and some lots of sketches that are a very big part of my output. Funny thing is, I'm known as a colorist because I paint very bright colors. Most of the people that collect my art are attracted to the bright, colorful pieces. I've sold hundreds and hundreds of my landscape paintings. I've only sold 10 drawings in all my years. They're black and white. Every single one of the drawings was sold to an artist. Hahaha. And I think that's funny. But I valued the very, very much and I think in some ways, they're just as important a part of my production and my art is the oil paintings.
HG: Yes, I mean, especially, you know, everything you've been saying the last few minutes is resonating with me so much about the similarities between you and Charlie, as I affectionately call him. And, you know, working so closely with Charlie's archives, seeing the impact of all those sketches… because you know, he would paint plein air, but he would also just go out into the fields and sketch and sketch and smell. And then come back and figure out the narrative that he's trying to tap into, in some ways. I'm going to misquote it and I have misquoted it before, but at one point in his journals, he writes that he is not trying to depict what you see, but what is really there. And that extra layer of especially with nature, you know, trying to tap into something much more primal, but also exuberant in these ways and, and certainly often scary, you know, especially like you mentioned in his early sort of conventions for abstract thought, those sort of almost abstract depictions, in some ways. Or abstractions of nature that actually help us get to a, perhaps a pure form of understanding nature. But those sketches are a huge part of the structure that allow us to understand Burchfield. And his writings are, you know, I cannot act really convey the importance of the writings he was providing us with at the same time. I mean, that's why I call him an ‘archivist dreamboat’, you know, because he gives us so many points of context. You know, it's not just the painting, which it's the painting, but also, it's the passion that comes out in the drawings that we are able to observe. 25,000 sketches. You know, I'm very excited for you to have the opportunity over the upcoming year to delve into his archives in depth. And, in some ways, even if it's just understanding his own way of organizing his materials, that sounded somebody similar to what you produce through your process.
PK: Well, I'd like to return to this idea of working on paper which Burchfield was… he was the work on paper master, but it's interesting. So, it's Burchfield with all the preparatory work he would do all these mountains of sketches, in some ways is was a return to tradition. You know, in the old days, artists drew a lot more than that too. Now, the biggest reason for that was because they had to make their own oil paints, or oil was frightfully expensive. And so, they had to plan ahead. The Hudson River school artists Thomas Cole, the founder of the American landscape movement in the early part of the 19th century, worked primarily in oil back in the studio from little pencil drawings or in pen and ink drawings he would do outside, he drew a lot. And it's interesting that an artist like Burchfield, who was not directly influenced by an artist like Cole, in some ways in wanting to work in drawing media first, as much as he did was a very traditional move, probably unintentionally, on his part. Obviously, it was something that helped him get closer and work his way, search his way forward to get to clear idea of what it was he was trying to say in each painting. I find I'm more adventurous in the small drawings that I do, because no one has to see them if they don't turn out, and you can do many, many of them. So, it's a place to really try things you don't really know for sure how to do. It's a way to sort of expand your reach.
HG: And also, just reinforce your technical skill. Like that's a big part of what I see Burchfield is doing as well, is, you know, he was just it is part of the craft of being a professional artist is making sure that your talent and your skill is as honed as you can have it, you know. Yeah. And I think it's also very surprising for people for example, with the Burchfield Botanical Show that Tullis curated. Yeah, Tullis Johnson curated last year, in conjunction with the Buffalo Museum of Science. We see these very sketchy impressionistic landscapes by Burchfield. And I think that, you know, again, with maybe sometimes the uninformed view, “oh, that's because you couldn't do better.” You know that Sometimes what maybe some people the first time seeing these works are these very loose sketches might think. But then you see his botanical drawings that he was making as a very young man when he was 16, quite possibly younger, which are just incredibly realistic representations of these flowers from botanical field books. And I think it gets back to you know, one of the first things you always learn in art history, especially as you get closer to the Modern and Contemporary eras, you know, abstract art did not develop necessarily because artists couldn't paint. It's because they had learned Picasso knew all the rules, and then he broke them. And I think that that ability to be grounded in understanding the form and structure of traditional methods, and then feeling free to expand beyond them was, was a big part of what Charlie was sort of wrestling with through much of his life. You know, his ‘golden year’ that he talks about 1917 is when he was being super weird. You know, he was really pushing himself to find these depths, both I think within himself and his own things that he was dealing with, and also how that translated to how he viewed the world. And then certainly I see the midpoint of his career, the mid-stage of his career when he left the Birge Wallpaper Company was being represented by Ren in 1929, had a young family to support, was certainly painting in a more representational style. Those are the words that do remind me of Hopper at certain points, you know, like Rainy Night, and pieces like that. And those were the ones that were selling very well, you know, and that, again, you know, that tense relationship between “what is it to be true to oneself as an artist?”, but also “what is it to provide for your family?”, if you are doing this as your main source of income or not. Speaking of traditional you know, Charlie was a very traditional mid-20th-century man who provided for his family and was the main source of income, and also knew himself well enough to know that, you know, New York was not where he wanted to be. But then, it's wonderful seeing how he kind of loosened up in the maybe the later phase of his life and when he made these very expressionistic landscapes that we love and very much connect with his work and kind of seeing him return to himself after spending many years kind of doing what he had to do to put bread on the table.
PK: You know, I think I see it a little differently in that I think that middle-period work was more realist period, that focus on urban architecture... It always stayed very gestural, the brush mark, and it's worked. There was a tremendous fluidity. So often it's raining those paintings, or the lighting is very, very gradated that he's there's a fluidity all the way through his work. No one would ever mistake and Edward Hopper painting—watercolor or oil—for Burchfield, you know Hopper is crisp, sharp. Oh, Burchfield shows up in some ways; he much wetter personality all the way around.
HG: Well said, yeah.
PK: Maybe there's a hard-bitten Yankee quality to him. Hopper even wrote nothing about his art. He had nothing to say about it, so he refused to speak for it. And then Burchfield who is just goes off in so many different directions with the writing with the effeusive of sketching. And he's just he's so much more openly fluid, gestural kind of guy. And yet, the thing I really like about Burchfield, and I think it's something that he has to teach all of us and to teach other arts. He's such a wild man, he goes right up to the edge of overdoing it, and then he gets in touch with his reticence and his selectivity and he holds back in every painting, too. There's always a section or sections. Where restraints Is what he's about. And I think that's one of the reasons why, to me, he's really one of the great visual minds of the 20th century, in that he can combine this wonderful excess with this great calculating restraint.
HG: And I think I first became familiar with him through another exhibition that Tullis Johnson created, the In His Own Words exhibition, which is really looking at the notes that Charlie would write to himself in his sketches. Yes, he was very calculating, and he did pull back, I totally see that. But he was also so questioning and he was so questioning of himself, and about if his intentions were pure, or if he was pushing himself hard enough, but also in the right direction, you know, and I think self-critical nature, really, you know, I feel it's very important for us always to be questioning ourselves and questioning our motives. And that just shows a level of honesty and humility that I feel he carried with him his whole life. And maybe it didn't have… maybe there are, you know, less happy reasons for that. You know, there's a lot of conversations about how he was raised without a father, and especially in the early 20th century, how that might have affected him and things like that. But then again, you know, you're just psychoanalyze, I'm really not into that. But, you know, he managed to take what could have been a hard stone inside of him and give it the space to help him grow to such expansive depths.
PK: Yeah, yeah. Kath [Kathleen] Hayworth, your marketing person, very kindly sent me that big Townsend book.
HG: The Poetry of Place, mhm.
PK: Yeah, the excerpts from Burchfield’s journals, and I've read a lot of it. And there's one whole chapter devoted to self-doubt, where he goes through the journals, the editor and pulls out all these self-critical remarks Burchfield makes. And it's a very tough chapter to read because it's so condensed but I think that self-doubt and that willingness to question is one of the reasons why he's such a good painter. Years ago, back when Arts Council's got lots of grants. I used to do these weekend workshops around the state of Maryland. And I met these painters who are much happier than I was. They were many more retired workers. And this was they would get together and paint once a week. And they had I watched the paint and they just they had the best time, much better time than I have. Then often I would come back a year later and meet the same people doing a second workshop and the same people would come and they were they're still having the best time and they're work had gotten no better. And I think what they were leaving out of the equation was this need to be critical, to have a lot of self-doubt, marrying that to your exuberance and your enthusiasm. You so much can see that in Birchfield journals which you know, on the whole are much more positive. But he often wanted to ask consult, “gee, am I doing the right thing? Am I being true to who I really am?” And he wrestled, he wrestled, I think his entire life. One of the things that's so good about his work, I think, is that and I think this is where he's a model for any artist who wants to do something of lasting importance. He's a model for me. He realized that he had to get these two sides of his personality to talk to each other. They don't want to talk to each other that we usually tend to be either-or settings. And I think partly by working in stages, partly by his willingness is fascinating willingness to go back into earlier work, revisit it and expand it, which is something I've become absolutely fascinated by because I didn't realize when I first looked Burchfield, that's where these big mother paintings came from. He worked on these paintings. For decades, proudly and openly, and he usually made them much better. And he said “let's talk about revisiting this,” and “I could do more with this; I did not take this as far as it could go.” In some ways, he was a traditional man, but he was also a flaming radical. And it's one of the reasons his work is so good.
HG: And he very much knew what he stood for, and his perspectives. And just the insights we get through the journals of you know, I think with many artists, we can see what they did, but we have to posit why… you know? And Charlie takes that out not always but often gives us his reasoning I love… with Late Afternoon Sunlight, perhaps the massive tree, a single tree with sunlight raining down. It's one of his much more well-known artworks.
PK: Oh, yeah, yeah, the gold there's almost a garland gold. Yes, very often reproduced and I have no idea of the title.
HG: But he added just four inches, just four inches at the top. And he was like, “it changed everything”. Four inches can give you the I think he said something like the, the impression of heaven. You know, and just four inches, you know, I mean it's such a little thing but it but he just he knew what he was doing. And he was curious. I think that's the thing too, that that always inspires me is that what comes with questioning is curiosity. And I think that's what carried him into such, you know, wild places. You've been using the term ‘wild’ to describe Burchfield. Yeah. And within a natural sense, yes, he was very wild, but within a societal sense, he was very reserved, you know, very uptight, in many ways. You know, I love envisioning him in suspenders and bow tie, you know, and dour facial expression. Yeah. But what was really incredible for me was going to Salem, Ohio last year with Scott and Tullis, and going to the Burchfield homestead, which is a very lovingly run historic house, though they acquired the house decades after it had been several apartments. So, they really tried to both recreate the original homestead while acknowledging the limits of funding and that sort of thing. But what they do have are these incredible reproductions of photographs from him when he was 16 and 17. When he was so involved with theater, and had a big group of friends and just these goofy kids playing with early photographs, and you see him in theatrical productions is just hamming it up, you know, in the shots, and you see other shots of this big group of teenagers is all falling on top of each other and laughing and there he is in the thick of it. And for me, that was so eye opening, you know, because especially the images you've seen, and that we even have on the walls of the archive, you know, is in an old man at the end of his life, who knows what he knows, was very exciting for me to see that side of him too and say that’s just as much Charlie as this as an oftentimes when we're quoting him, we're quoting that young man, even if we're looking at the images of the older man. So, I have four tattoos, and they are all place-based on…they're about places that are important to me. And so, a few years ago, I got my Buffalo tattoo, which is an excerpt from Dandelion Seed Heads in the Moon, on my hip right here. And it's the beautiful. It's like the three quarter opening dandelion seed head, and that sort of exploding outward. And it's… out of context, some people will be like, “is that a Chinese fan? Like, what is it?” And you tell them, and they're like, “Oh, it's a dandelion?” Well, I think it's a beautifully well done tattoo and someday when I'm wearing pants and a shirt, I'll show you. And the tattoo artist did an exceptional job of representing watercolor in ink. And also, the tattoo artist loved Burchfield’s work as well. So, that felt like a really nice tie in. But I feel like I know Charlie well enough to know that if I ever had an opportunity to show him this and say “Mr. Burchfield. Look at what your work inspired me to do!” He would turn red face and clam up and be unable to talk to me and probably try to get out of the same room as me as fast as possible. And, and that's really… it's a fascinating sort of like, juxtaposition I have working so closely with the products of his life. But being someone that I know would have been a little too outgoing and, you know, probably immodest for him. It's always you know, but then again, different era.
PK: A different era. Yeah. It is funny, your reference to the suspenders and the bow tie, though. And that with a hip tattoo, yeah.
HG: I love the way he writes about New York. I love the way he managed to put himself in situations that made him uncomfortable, you know, going to dinners at the Met. Going to New York, you know. He hated it, but he hated being apart from his family and being apart from you know, the world he loved, but also we're very willing to suck it up and do it because that's what he had to do to provide, and to forward his career, you know? And I love this little anecdote. I don't know, I don't remember what journal it’s in, but I believe he was in New York for a dinner at the Met…and I see him as a space cadet whose brain was just like, moving too fast to be able to focus on social niceties and those sorts of posturing. You know, he was not the type of posture, I feel, though I think he was capable of it. He was sitting at a table, and just daydreaming often space. And the woman next to him, turns to him and says, Well, what do you think Mr. Burchfield? And realizing that he hasn't been paying attention, he kind of pulls himself back and says, “Oh, yes, absolutely.” And the woman looks horrified. And he comes to find out afterwards, she just asked him if she looked her age. You know, and so he that he's both mortified, and also weird. aware of what it is about him that led, you know, he was very aware that he was daydreaming, he was not present. He didn't want to be there, you know. But that's just such an honest, honest moment that I think his journals provide what his journals provide. What his journals and his writings provide for me, but primarily the journals is an opportunity to take him down off the pedestal that within the western canon, we put all artists on and connect with him as a human, as a father, as a man, as a community member. You know, and I think that's part of what I love about this Living Legacy Project. But it's also something that I find to be rare. It's also rare for it to be accessible. And that's a big part of what I'm trying to think of doing here at the Burchfield as well you know, The Poetry of Place was one edition, we have maybe 20 more copies left published in the early 90s. It's probably not going to get republished. But for the journals, we have the scans. And so, my interns are constantly working on transcribing them, sort of for the second time, but we're making all the journals available online that can be browsed through sort of with like a read functionality. But I think the transcriptions offer… both this time and the first time around, and you experienced it yesterday, reading Burchfield handwriting is difficult. Yeah. And it's even extra difficult depending on what sort of health challenges he was dealing at, at certain points in his life. When he had attacks of lumbago, it would affect everything, you know, he felt terrible. And it's even harder to read his writing then. And so, making sure that what's really powerful for me about Burchfield’s writing is that it's accessible 100 years ago, and hopefully 100 years from now and there's he's not just reaching universal truths in his paintings. He's also getting down to things that I feel everybody can relate to in his writings. Suspenders or no suspenders. Yeah. Well, we spent the past hour talking about Burchfield, but not really talking about your work. And what I want to do maybe with the rest of this interview, I don't want it to go all day because I need to go check out my interns and, and I want you to be able to, to explore your time here in Buffalo. But I guess what I'm envisioning with you is a different type of structure where I'd like to ask you a little bit more about your work now and your creative process. And then maybe the next time you come to Buffalo… in a few months?
PK: Probably later this summer. I'll be back this summer sometime. I want to maximize the easy weather. Yeah. Because I’ve been told that it isn't always like this.
It's not always like that. And that's another great quote by Burchfield that I will butcher again I wish Tullis was here. He’d give me a look and then quoted accurately, Charlie wrote once it is not until you've been stung by the bees, bitten by the bugs, burned by the sun, drenched by the rain, that you know what nature is.” And it just really gives you a sense of like… also what a stubborn person he must have been to just go to just be like, “none of this is gonna stop me.” Yeah, yeah. And I think that's powerful.
PK: I love the quote that you came up with even maybe a word or two, it's off, but like the idea is so, so clear and so true.
HG: I'll find you the actual quote. I'm sure Tullis knows it offhand. But what I'm trying to say is that next time you come to town, maybe we can have a check-in interview where I say, “how's your residency going, you know, what are you working on throughout this time? What are some things you've learned or excites you,” or something like that? And then perhaps the time after that, that you can, we can always have a short little hour, so check in about your progress through your residency as the Burchfield artist-in-residence, and maybe so I think that would be a really fun and unique opportunity. That's very different from what I normally do with these interviews.
PK: Also, I'm an artist. I love talking about myself.
HG: And a professor. It comes easy!
PK: Lots of pressure.
HG: Yeah. So, talk to me a little bit about your work. I think we touched on some of your most important influences. I mean, here we are right now. But what do you create? And why do you create it?
PK: Yeah, I'm a landscape painter, although I never felt that term is all encompassing enough meaning I'm really painting portraits of the world. What I think the reason I paint the landscape is I think it is such a huge part of who we are. And it's one of the best evidences of what is celebratory about being alive. I mean, it just looks great. No matter what's going on, there's something out there that you need to we need to look at. I sort of stumbled into landscape painting through the back door, I wanted to paint everything else. I tried painting everything else first. And I found I'm really good at it. I got introduced to landscape through the work of Edward Hopper, Charlie Burchfield’s friend. And I seemed to get the best results when I worked with big long-cast shadows outside. And you can you go with what seems to be working. I found I enjoyed the process more than working in the studio. You were talking, Heather, just a minute ago about Birchfield’s commitment to working outdoors. One of the things about my work is I do a lot of that outdoor experience I think that is absolutely critical… I come from a long line of photographers, and partly because of that, I think it was very important for me to individuated from the family. And I, for that reason, I always shied away from using photography. As a source for my work. I wanted to be on site having the experience not getting stung by bees, although that does happen, and not getting the mosquito bites or the mayflies or the black flies or other that happens, but just having the whole experience outside, what is it that wakes up our most creative side that reaches into our unconscious and gets it on board help us make a painting. I think our personality responds to lots of different signals, and physically being out in the environment and seeing what stimulates us is something I can't get by looking at a photograph. Photography is incredibly valuable medium. for other people. For me, it is not I have kind of an emotional blind spot towards photography, but nobody fits into everything, that's fine. I do work that is based on spending a lot a lot of time outdoors and increasingly in my second half of my career. My work is also about memory of times in the past when I was outside, where I'm stitching together images from my head of Western New York, Lake Champlain, the White Mountains, the coast of Maine, all in the same painting. And that's, that's leading me to some very useful places. In a lot of ways, I think my work in the last 20 years has become much more about a universal portrait of the earth. It's kind of outside of time. I like to imagine my paintings as either being about the earth 40,000 years ago, or 40,000 years from now, I keep waiting for a dinosaur to walk around the corner in one of my paintings. I would never put it in, but it's kind of the romantic excess that I indulge myself in. I mean, these are I it sounds grandiose to call them primordial landscapes, but I think of them in that spirit. They're definitely part of that romantic American landscape tradition. I want to get back to the word ‘wild’. I mean, it's so big out there. It's much more powerful than we are. If you're not careful, it can kill you. And yet it is such a source of energy. It's a source of our food. In our time, in particular, the lack of awareness of the Earth's power and nature's power is one of the things that's allowed us to get into such a terrible ecological mess that we're in. And I do hope that doing really good landscape paintings and getting a big audience for them will help people refocus their attention on… we are where we are, we humans, we are part of the earth where we are as part of us. And we, you know, gotta take better care of this planet. So, there is kind of an undercurrent of political urgency about the work too. I'm also a painter and I think painting I mentioned earlier, it's a language and I'm very interested in learning the language of painting which has been developed by all the artists who've gone before us. I've always been I've always been kind of perplexed by contemporary artists terror, the terror most contemporary artists have of looking seriously at the artist who have gone before us and saying “gee, are there any tools in their toolbox that I could use today to tell my story?” I think more most artists are have not looked closely enough at the past. It's they were just as smart as we were. They were just as sensitive as we are. And they have a lot to tell us. And for some curious reason, I'm more open to the past as a source of useful tools that most painters. Nobody would confuse my paintings with 19th century paintings, especially you see it in person. I'm too nervous today to paint a 19th century painting. You know, I have very fluid brushwork. The color sensibility is distinctly influenced by Jules Olitski and Mark Rothko. You know, these were my big heroes. When I first started, I love that I started as an abstract painter. I did that only because that's what my teachers were teaching at Oberlin College and, you know, you want to please your teachers, they seemed important, you know.
HG: They write your grades.
PK: They made the grades, you know, and they were nice people too, generally, most of them. And I learned a whole lot during that big color field paintings when I first started, those tools are great. I picked up from you know, the art of the American art of the 1960s. I'm still using those tools today in 2015. But I've also reached in some other tool bags of artists like Hopper, Charles Burchfield, Rockwell, Kent, Winslow Homer, and the Hudson River school artists and Thomas Cole and his buddies. They all had important things to teach me. And I think that's one of my unique strengths is that I'm smart enough to learn from these really smart people that went down the path before me. I'm also so aware that, you know, each generation sees and feels differently than the previous generation. I don't have a hip tattoo, for example, because it would feel wrong to me. But I see reality a little differently than someone of Burchfield’s generation. Burchfield saw differently than Winslow Homer's generation. And so, there's always going to be a need for people to paint landscapes, because we need to know where we are. And we can learn so much about who we are by looking at how artists have interpreted our world and how we do it differently now than artists of the 1920s and 30s. And they did it differently than people did in 1900. It's a pressing need to keep working in this visual language.
HG: Part of what I'm hearing from you, too, you know, hearing about what you can learn from artist masters of the past, or artists of the past, you know, everyone is a master in their own way…
PK: But I like to look for what I think are the best!
HG: Yes, yes, absolutely, absolutely. You know, those artists cannot directly speak to you. And so, in some ways, you know, you'd mentioned that you're smart, but part of what I see in that is the ability to incorporate research, the ability to incorporate, like, not just looking at the paintings, but how you look at the context of creation. And maybe I'm making some assumptions, but you can learn much from looking at a painting but also at some point, you need to also learn the process and, you know, these other components that are not immediately visible within the work.
HG: And the ability to research and the ability to use primary source materials, you know, archival materials, you're making a great case for the need for archives.
PK: Oh, God, yeah. But one of the things to get on my soapbox for men, I don't think most people who work in museums realize how much their work in a museum is influencing the art of the future. Because all the smart artists are coming to the museums and looking long and hard and are taking away the things that they find useful there. Like just yesterday, my first day here in Buffalo, I was going through his big box full of drawings, Burchfield’s studies… And one of the things that struck me right away is that I've always seen in his work but and this one is very valuable to me in my own work because I'm very involved with the physical gesture using the whole arm is that his studies are bigger than I'd realized in that, physically larger they fill up more square inches. You can see Burchfield did a lot of work standing up at an easel. He did a lot of work in a big sketchbook, or on a big drawing board or likely and he used his whole arm. And there's that sense of you should the drawings will have it…almost like two different fields of energy, two different, two different systems of lines will come together and collide. And in the more successful drawings, get into a conversation with each other, which is exactly what you see in his painting, or in any good artist. I mean, I think a lot of ways what a painting does, if it's good, is it puts in several different elements that don't want to talk to each other, you know, the sky and the land that don't like even like each other. The artist allows them to be themselves to express who they are, and then makes them, through his inventiveness, find a way to also talk to each other. It's almost like he's raising a family with all these individuals in it, and he allows the kids to be different from each other, but he makes them all sit down at the dinner table and talk to each other and not get into a fistfight. And that's what a successful painting does. It doesn't stamp uniform onto the members of the family, the sky is painted differently in my painting than the land. Birchfield the tree at the left differently than the grass is at the bottom. But he makes them talk to each other but respects the differences. And gosh, think of the analogy that makes for any life situation in your personal life, where things are not fitting together. Art…this is getting a little global, I know, but one of the reasons why this matters and why humans have always turned to visual art and why they turned to music is it's proof positive that you can reconcile at least some of the things that seem irrevocably in conflict that they're not there ways to solve things, sometimes take radical measures to do it. But there's a tremendous optimism that comes beaming out of a successful painting. Gosh, there's a painting downstairs in the show Tullis Johnson put together now that just from a private collection I've forgotten the title. But it's just it's so good. I went back and looked at it four times. And I'm hoping to take it home with me. If you could turn off the surveillance cameras.
HG: Haha, no, but we could probably take a really nice image for you.
PK: But it's a private collection.
HG: But what is interesting is we hold the copyright to every image Burchfield produced; this was bestowed to us by the foundation by the Burchfield Foundation.
PK: So, I’d better be nice to you people.
HG: Yeah! Be nice to us. Or, you know, don't be nice to us. Or, you know what, be nice to us if we deserve it. Okay, yeah. But so essentially, even museums are, for example, that private collection, if they wanted to reproduce their own painting for commercial purposes, they would have to contact us and get permission. So, I'm going to try and find an image of that painting and link it to your profile when it's done. That's a really nice thing about our website, too, is it's what's called dynamic and faceted. So, you know you can have exhibitions linked to an artist linked to linked to an object by another person and all these different nodes can create a pathway of sort of exploration, let's say.
PK: It’s so interesting to interact with younger staff at the museum. You think so much more electronically-oriented. I mean, it just… you're thinking these terms of these connections. I go, “Oh, yeah, you could do that.”
HG: Have you heard of the Memex Machine?
HG: That's something I could see you being interested in, or at least doing some summary research… I don't remember the name of the game. But our memories aren't great because our memories are external. You know, I know that I can go ask the Oracle as I like to call the Internet, and it'll tell me the name of the creator of the Memex Machine. So, it's not in my head.
PK: So, it's okay to be brainless. Sometimes.
HG: We are cyborgs. We really already are cyborgs. I don't know how I feel about that. But it is…I have conversations with friends who are exactly my age. I'm 28. I don't know how old your daughters are…?
PK: They're in their lower 40s.
PK: All right, I’m ancient.
HG: You’re looking good for a fossil.
PK: Thank you very much. I oil myself every morning.
HG: Myself and people who are pretty much exactly my age are I think the last people who are not digital natives. I remember when my dad got his first DAS computer when I was nine. I remember using 5 ¼” floppies, 5 ½” or whatever they were. And so now I have a niece and nephew who are nine and four, and to see them swiping on a screen the way they breathe or walk or these things. In some ways, I'm very fascinated to see what happens to especially this generation that's growing up now, because I feel that early exposure to computers and computer structures and ways of accessing information may actually affect our mental pathways. You know, computer files are so compartmentalized in these ways. How might that affect the way a young brain accesses information to think of the path one has to follow through folders or files to get to the game they want to play? You know, but I do feel very grateful to sort of have one toe in the non-computer world, and pretty much a whole leg in the digital world. But to be aware of that divide, because kids, even a few years younger than me, cannot have an actively lived experience of what that was.
PK: My observation about the computer world is everybody knows just a tiny slice of it, that people know the part they know how to do and they're…it's too big, already too big. And that's okay.
HG: But then again, we have to look at the natural world, right? It's too big. I mean, it's not too big. It's so big.
PK: It's real big. It's really big. And they tell me there's stuff beyond the sky. That that blows my mind and I think it's downright troublesome.
HG: We should see if we can find a quote from the first moon landing by Charlie. See if he wrote anything about the time. He very well might have.
PK: When was the first moon landing?
HG: Wasn’t it the 50s? Or wait, was it 60s? No, no, no, it wasn't 68 because he would have been dead. I don’t think it was in the 70s. It was the 60s.
PK: I think it was the late 60s. God, I used to know that. Yeah. I think he missed I think it was, I think he missed it.
HG: If it was 67, then he missed it. Yeah. He was. He was very inspired by. He's very nationalistic. He was he, you know, was a war veteran himself. He was in World War One, but he was never in combat. He was you probably know this, but he was a camouflage designer, stationed at Fort Jackson, I believe. But he was very patriotic in those ways. And so certainly the impacts of war affected him from this very nationalistic perspective. And actually, the piece Oncoming Storm, which is the first piece that Buffalo State College require that led to the founding of the Burchfield Art Center. That's an example of a piece where he started, I believe, at the beginning of World War Two when he was in this…and he started it at this point where everything was fearful and nebulous, not sure what was going to happen. And then I think he got too anxious and had to step away from the piece, and it also was that harmony wasn't coming together for him at that time. And he put it aside for like 20 years, and he revisited it long after the end of World War Two, and so he was able to bring this hope that he hadn't been able to sort of find during his anxious moments.
PK: One of the things I've really loved getting to know his work better is this discovery of how great a timespan he would revisit work. That I have always loved doing that with my own work, I almost always go back into paintings that… once they come back from a show, if I haven't seen them for a year or two, I almost always go back into them. And so, the dating became very nebulous. And then I started looking at his dates where he put, you know, dash, dash, dash. And I said, “Well, there's good precedent for this. With my own work, I almost always make it stronger.” And it's partly, I think, it's a chance to become objective again about what the strengths and weaknesses of the work are. You know there's nothing like time to give you a fresh headset.
HG: And a little space. Yeah, you know, a little space to think about other things because yeah, we can get so wrapped up.
PK: And that's, that's something I think that is very new. I'm not aware of other artists like Burchfield, who did that systematically as he did, and for certain kinds of personalities, like mine, it really seems to work well. Again, you go where the success is, and revisiting old work, it's just been so fruitful for me. I was working on something that was 30 years old just last week, and it got better.
HG: In some ways, your skills have developed more. Your perspective is broader.
PK: I understand painting much better now. I understand how, in some ways… Cezanne has this great quote that that art travels on a path that runs parallel to nature, but it never touches nature. Almost like two railroad tracks. And I often think about that that is the impetus is in direct experience. But it you then have to go into the realm of art, which is a learned language. And part of it you use a lot of conscious thinking, and part of it, you rely a great deal on your unconscious mind for the intuitive side of it. And getting those two parts of your thinking and your feeling to work together to put it really, really simply. Burchfield knew art history. He's a funny guy because he doesn't talk… he talks about Sibelius a lot, but he doesn't talk about other visual artists. This is one of the ways I'm very different…
HG: Not favorably.
PK: But generally, in the journals, there are of not a lot of references to other artists, and here's men who knew museums. He went to a good art school, which I briefly attended, by the way.
HG: I did not know that.
PK: Yeah, I went for one month, five days a week of life drawing at the former Cleveland School of Art when I was a senior at Oberlin. And I was fascinated by the experience. One of the things I got from a lot of good figure drawing experience, but I realized that art schools were not magic. When I was not at an art school, I was at a liberal arts college. I thought, “Well, God, if only was in an art school, all the students would be incredible.” And I got there and they're very ordinary people, too. It humanized the experience. I lost my train of thought so…
HG: Burchfield’s knowledge of other artists.
PK: Oh, right. So, one thing that I'm fascinated by, here's a guy who knew the other artists work very well. And he just chose not to write about it. I think partly, it was he was jealous. Partly he was just very involved with his own work in our world. His friend Edward Hopper was the same way. Hopper was not a generous man. He was very generous with the paintings he made. He was not generous in other ways. But you take the good, you know, I mean, who is his 100% percent in every area?
HG: And it's true. Burchfield doesn't write about Hopper that often. Like, the evidence of their relationship is in some of the fragments of the letters we have, but it is not well documented, for what clearly was an important friendship. And I think he was also at a certain point, especially when he was started being represented by Ren, and then was kept on, I think, during the Great Depression and during those following years, you know, he was aware of his national and international status as an artist. And I think he was aware that someday his journals would be viewed, I don't think he could conceive of the internet and what that means today, but I think he was aware that somebody else might someday read his journals. And so, when he is speaking disparagingly of someone, he does not mention by name, which is also, you know, very traditional, upstanding gentleman type, you know, but I do think that was a component as well. And sometimes, like, it is funny when he when you when you could tell that that somebody, some artist in town would come by to see his studio and he had to entertain and he grumbled about it, especially if they were not to the quality that he wanted, or he respected, let's say, but I think Bertha was really good at keeping him in line in those ways. You know, they're like, “well, we gotta entertain and then they’ll leave...”
PK: You know, it's awkward. You know, any artist who stays with it for many decades is somebody who really believes in themself. I mean, I'm not falsely modest. I think my paintings are I think they will be preserved. I have put so much energy into it. There's a lot of things I haven't done to make my art life possible. And I'm very proud of what I've accomplished. Certainly, Burchfield had a lot of you proud about and he was a proud man. He was not falsely modest. And it's and I understand that urge not to trash other artists publicly. I mean, I don't like most contemporary art that I see but what's to be gained from… let me put it positively: there's so much more to be gained to celebrating things you think are really good. And the world needs more of that and if I don't like something, I don't tend to talk about it that much. In contemporary art world, it there's it has become so fragmented, it's gone off so many different directions. And I in speaking generalities, I'm very comfortable criticizing the contemporary art world. I think it is often a struggle from its visual roots, and whatever an artist is saying, with her work or his work, it has to first of all be visually rich, then people will listen to what else one has to say. And that's the trick. You have to speak the language of the…the painting language, which just has to be in the front row, you know, how it's made is just as important as what it's about. And there are many contemporary artists who do it very well.
HG: But also, one of the challenges of many contemporary artists, and this is just the challenge of the way capitalism does not support the arts, especially when artists are young: they cannot afford good materials, right? They cannot afford or maybe aren't aware, combination therein, the importance of acid free paper, right. And all these things that will depending on where they go in their careers will impact the future researcher’s ability to access their early works.
PK: I was amazed to see all that work on newsprint.
HG: First of all, it's on newsprint, but also, it's on newsprint at an era that was early enough in the 20th century Industrial Revolution where it's not pulp paper, you know. So, in some ways pulp paper falls apart the quickest because it's so mass produced. Whereas, you know, the Declaration of Independence in many ways is fine because it's made on a quality of paper prior to industrial production, where it's just… every paper was higher quality, you know, so it was newsprint, but quite honestly, the newsprint is holding up phenomenally. So, I have not ever done any acid tests on it just because that involves permanently marking a component of it forever. And we handle them and treat them with a high degree of care. But the flexibility of the paper is phenomenal, especially once he's just working on loose newsprint. So, I don't know if it's a combination of just what he was getting, or if he had any sort of awareness. But I doubt that he did.
PK: Also I know that he liked Conté Crayons on newsprint, they are a magical combination the surface of newsprint and Conté Crayon. They love each other. You know, he's so sensitive to line quality. And I teach life drawing at MICA [Maryland Institute College of Art], and I work on newsprint with content because it's, it's just as lovely as the lights. Yeah. And it's a shame that contemporary newsprint isn't better. But it's a gorgeous surface to work on. And, you know, if you got to like the materials, they feel sensuous, it will turn on…it opens those inner doors, that it's so much that the secret. Yeah, you know, we're at work with materials that turn you on. If you like the surface you're working on, you're going to be more talented than if you're working on a surface you don't like. It really is that simple. So, that's wonderful.
HG: Well, Philip, I feel like we've touched on so much that we kind of deviated from this but in many ways, the questions we talked about the economy We had reflected some of the questions that we laid out. Is there anything else you'd like to share before we conclude the interview? Either about your work or about Burchfield?
PK: Oh, there's a ton of things and I don't want to say too, too much.
HG: The good news is we'll be doing more interviews.
PK: I'm excited to come here because you know, it's funny, growing up in New York State experiencing the winters in Rochester, seeing Lake Ontario freeze over going skiing in the hills south of Buffalo. It's very funny. I dream a lot about my childhood. The landscape is a very big part of that and some of my happiest, most transcendent dreams are being up here. And yet, I didn't start doing art until I left New York State. I went to Oberlin, Ohio and then Indiana University and then I went to the west coast and taught my first job, then I came to Baltimore. And I've never really been painting in western New York State of painted in the Adirondacks painted in New York City when I went to art school there for a while, but it's very exciting to me to come back to the old neighborhood. And not literally Buffalo, but this area and revisited with the eyes I have now. So there's no way this residency at Burchfield Penney can fail, that it's going to be very, very good for me on an art level, but also on a just a human level of coming home and seeing from this, the perspective of being 67 and painter with many decades under my belt, seeing the old homestead from this angle, I don't see how that couldn’t lead to very good places, emotionally and artistically. So, I know this is gonna be a good thing. And also, I think it can be, it's gonna be a very good thing for Burchfield Penney. Because nobody likes or understands Burchfield better than I do. Not names and dates, but I really get what's good about his paintings, and I think one of my strengths, since I've taught painting for some years, I can put into words some of the things that are very difficult to put into words, without becoming incomprehensible. It there's a real art to talking about art in a way that's meaningful. And Gosh darn it, gosh, darn it. That's a real Burchfield phrase. I'll get the bowtie out. You know, art really needs spokespersons. It needs museums, it needs curators, it needs archivists, and it needs spokespeople, to try to get other people to come back and look a second time. You know, a lot of what artists do, I think, is they tap people on the shoulder and say “Wait, you left to quickly come back here and see what you missed.” We're in the business, visual artists, of showing people the important stuff that they've overlooked. You know, all arts do that. And so, I've come back to the old neighborhood to check out the stuff I overlooked the first time.
HG: We're so excited to have you here. We really are, and I think Charlie would be excited, too.
PK: Oh, he'd love a fan. Yeah, what artists doesn't love honest…
HG: An intelligent fan that can speak cohesively about the work and about the person and you know, I can speak for myself and I can speak for the Burchfield by saying, we are so floored to have someone of your passion and caliber, you know, here to work with us. And to further celebrate Charles Burchfield.
PK: He's worth celebrating. You know, in it really funny. I think partly because he doesn't fit into that overly simplified art historical study where you march in a straight line from Claude Monet to Jackson Pollock. Burchfield doesn't fit in that straight line. Because of that, and because he didn't live in New York and because he was not an extrovert, he does not get as much attention… has not received until recent years, the attention I think his work deserves. He's one of those over, not an overlooked master, because he fortunately did get support early on. But he's not part of the canon. And I think he really should be. I don't think there's anybody painting in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, who was better than him. And there are many painters who are much American painters are better known. I mean, I think he blows…can I trash Arthur Dove? I think he's way better than Arthur Dove. I think Charles Sheeler is a wuss compared to Burchfield, and for some reason these people… and they're good artists. I mean, we need Charles Sheeler you know, Marston Hartley. These are important artists, but Burchfield is better than they are, in my opinion. So, I'm a partisan of Burchfield’s point of view. I think he any fits into a different narrative of American Art History than the one that was current when I was coming out of school, so that I in any way I can help support Burchfield’s work. We need some alternative stories to be told. Let's get a little genuine pluralism. I know I don't want to start ranting.
HG: Here's to a genuine pluralism.
PK: Alright. Here goes my rant: I was at Oberlin College. They had three artists on the faculty and they had a great powerful historian, Ellen Johnson, now deceased, who is a big devotee of conceptual art and pop art, and she was the avant garde artist. And she held sway in that department. And she had a very passionate point of view about what was important in contemporary art. And you know, it's a very small art collecting program at the Allen Art Museum. But it was so skewed towards this one narrative of Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman were the greatest artists ever, and they're perfectly decent artists, but there are other stories and the things so funny. Here's a liberal arts college that made such it's so good at patting itself on the back for its openness. And yet it didn't have the resources or the staff to have that many points of view. And I found the art museum was the historical holdings of the Allen Art Museum were terrific. But their contemporary programming was so focused under this one sliver of the pie of what's going on. I mean, they would know have had a show like this Patteran…
HG: The Patteran exhibition?
PK: Yes. They wouldn't have had the space or the staff to do it. But I mean, how good to see something like that happening. But anyway, so that's why it's you know, it's really funny here is… we got the Albright Knox here. And then bingo, the mothership plunk down here and you got the Burchfield Penney, and these are almost antithetically different institutions.
HG: While having either an artist at the center of the focus or a whole historical era at the focus that is in many ways the same time period. You know, I feel like what's so interesting is pluralism. Charlie wasn't sexy enough. Okay, Charlie was, you know, at the time when the abstract expressionists are counterculture and everything but they're being massively supported by in some ways the art industrial complex, right? Here's somebody who actually was counterculture. But that counter of the culture at the time was this moral uprightness and raising a family and suspenders and bow tie, you know, and that's not sexy for the narrative of the Western art historical canon. And but in some ways, that's the most counterculture one could be at that time.
PK: And that you ended up these two buildings across the street from each other. Yes, it's symbolically fabulous.
HG: Really, really, it really is.
PK: And they do have some beautiful color paintings over there. They have but it's so focused.
HG: It's so focused, it is an exquisite collection. It is one of the best collections of modern and contemporary art in the eastern part of the United States, if not all of the United States. But it is a very specific focus. Whereas and that's kind of what I love about the Burchfield. We are not afraid to take on large ambitions that may be beyond our staff size or resources, but we pull it off because we don't necessarily have those limitations of… we have a limitation of focus of Western York, you know, but historical to present, we can play with that. And we are close enough with the community that we serve that speaking of how museums do influence art, we can actively help influence the ways people receive or encounter artists from Western New York like the Barge Project, right? That's essentially creating a traveling museum to showcase upstate New York.
PK: It was such a great idea.
HG: Such a great idea.
PK: Buffalo’s here partly because of the canals. And at one time briefly, canals were huge and tolerated and…
HG: That's what made Buffalo you know, and it's…
PK: And then the railroad came in right after they opened the damn thing and it's like, “wait a minute!” The unanticipated technology… because imagine digging that canal, and they didn't have power equipment. And all these starving Irish immigrants came in, desperate people, they bust their buns to build this thing, and then the railroad comes in and he's just like, “wait a minute!” On the other hand of the railroads, they made Buffalo possible. But I grew up you know, when I was a little, little kid, right next to the Erie Canal in Fairport, and it was just like, you know, when you're little something like that is like, “Oh!”
HG: The last thing I want to say is that I think it takes a museum of our size and gumption to be able to conceive of things that so many other institutions right off the bat would say no way in hell. Yeah. You know, “no way in hell are we gonna try something like that.”
PK: Oh, you guys are goofballs. I mean, yeah, I look online at programming, and I go, “They're doing those, and those, and those?” And these are large projects, and then the Barge Project came down; they built the damn barge!
HG: We built the damn barge, yeah.
PK: This is so big, this is insane.
HG: And then we donated everything. It was super fun with all that. So, there is over 200 sheets of drywall used in it. And we managed to take it apart in a way… using magnets to find the screws, so we didn't destroy the drywall. So pretty much we put out a call to friends and people in the community: you working on a housing project? Come pick up some drywall, and we just told the community to come get it out of our space. And that's both so simple and not even directly connected to art, but it's been within the larger context of our creation and our promotion. But it's such a tangible example of how we want to connect and be a part of our community. Yeah, and that resonates with me deeply. So I'm going to end this interview by saying that I am so excited to have you as part of the Burchfield family and to sort of draw you back into the Western New York perspective, and I hope it is a sunny, beautiful summer for you.
PK: Well, today looks good. Yeah.
HG: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
PK: Oh, thank you so much.