Karl Hartman, Cub and Shadow (2005), oil on panel, 16″ x 34″; courtesy Adam Baumgold Gallery
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Karl Hartman’s paintings of New York City focus on unheralded bits and pieces of the city: a Siamese-twin water pipe intersecting with a guard rail; bird cages hanging in front of a Brooklyn brownstone; a deserted amusement park carousel. Hartman paints these scenes with deadpan curiosity–a matter-of-factness. These aren’t sentimental “big city” pictures, nor are they despairing. Favoring a muted palette and attuned to the underlying geometry of the city, Hartman paints with a precision that renders the mundane quirky.
His New York is a place filled with an ascetic quietude that verges on wonder. A seemingly benign image of a tenement rooftop can become comically unsettling, as if the ducts and pipes upon it, shifting uneasily in their places, were involved in some sort of conspiracy. In several paintings, Hartman bestows the pigeon–not a creature universally loved by city-dwellers–with otherworldly grace.
Hartman’s stoic eccentricity and attention to craftsmanship makes him, I think, a very American painter; one whose imaginative leaps, however understated, are rooted in a pragmatic faith in the tangible.
A version of this article was originally published in the Summer 1993 edition of New Art Examiner.
Postscript: Hartman would subsequently devote himself to the landscape of the American mid-west, as per the example above, and brought to the resulting pictures the same uncanny quietude. Mario Naves