April 2005

Martin Kotler

Hemphill Fine Arts

Washington, D.C.

You could say Martin Kotler paints streetscapes, but what he mostly focuses on are the disheveled backsides of buildings. In this show, he revealed the alleys, service roads, and graffiti-spattered walls of Washington, D.C., the city where he lives and can occasionally be seen working en plein air.

There aren’t many people in Kotler’s work. His paintings are more about how ordinary buildings exist in the natural world, how they look during different seasons, in different light; how they interact with sky and nearby objects — garbage cans, streetlights, and gutter weeds; and how they appear from different angles.

Kotler recalls Charles Sheeler in the way that he works up precise compositions of planes, space, and curves until they veer into abstraction, as in Shadow #2, The White Alley (2004), which pulls a beguiling play of shadow and line out of a garage door.

Some paintings here suggested abandonment and alienation, but Kotler deftly varied the mood to hint at the lives and passions of people inside the buildings. In A Backyard Tree, Winter (2003), a succession of lines and angles lead past a tree trunk, toward the windows of a whitewashed row house, its parted white curtains framing a dark, upper-story room. Here and in many other works, Kotler keeps the center of gravity a bit off-kilter. You never quite settle into these paintings, and that fact, more than the works’ content, lent them a genuine feeling of urban life — unsteady, fresh, and intimate.

This exhibition also included 14 small, exquisite flower paintings. It’s hard to find anything innovative about a floral arrangement, and Kotler doesn’t, but these decorative jewels showed his technical skill at rendering texture and light to great effect.

–Roger Atwood