A debut coffee-table tome displays the work of a major high-modernist painter.
Albert Kotin was a fixture of the New York school of abstract expressionist painters—Jackson Pollock was the scene’s leader—that gelled after World War II in defiance of the notion that a painting should look like anything in particular. Editor Herskovic supplies only the barest biographical information, parceled out in a few paragraphs along with reprints of exhibition posters and stray newspaper clippings. Most of the book is just a lush photographic catalog of paintings, starting with Kotin’s early representational work that included Works Progress Administration–sponsored post office murals of blacksmiths and barn dances along with a late-1930s Cubist phase featuring blocky, depthless women in distorted perspective whose bodies don’t fit together correctly. In 1947, representation wanes and abstraction sets in with paintings that are salads of many-colored shapes—wedges, panes, blobs—set against background washes. His mature style continues to evolve: Pollock-ian drips emerge around 1950 and recede a few years later, shapes becomes less distinct and raggedly interpenetrating. In later years, as if in frustration at the limits of abstract expressionism, Kotin turns to verbal expression by painting words onto canvases; “I am inconsolable searching by sight and science I find my way blocked by id, ego + a doubting mind,” reads 1964’s I Am Inconsolable. Herskovic also reprints some of Kotin’s poems, which aren’t half bad: “The temple of the Muse / Is a small hole / In the dark earth of an untrod path / Which may / Suddenly / Trap an unwary / Naked / Toe,” reads “Parnassus.” The book’s gorgeous reproductions reveal Kotin as a great colorist, with a palette of blazing yellows and glowing reds, delicate pastels, funereal blues, and pitch blacks; his colors are always complex, even when monochrome, with endless microscopic nuances of saturation and abrading. He’s also a wonderfully tactile artist who crafts textures as silky as mist or as rough as wool and bark. His paintings can be enjoyed as dazzling, purely visual evocations of mood, but his penchant for sneaking the figurative back into abstraction—a nude emerging evanescently from swirling clouds, a face surfacing amid gloopy paint melts—adds piquancy to many images. This book shows his work at its colorful, atmospheric, indecipherable best.
A vibrant trove of exuberant art for art’s sake.