21 January – 26 February 2005
Martin Kobe is a painter whose works depict dynamic architectural visions: impossible virtual spaces that while meticulously painted, also seem provisional and in the process of breaking down. Interior and exterior views are compressed using interlocking horizontal planes, sharp, vertiginous walls and ceilings inter-cut with balconies, picture windows and coulisses , leading the eye all around the canvas. Kobe's palette is vibrant but restricted, mostly consisting of deep reds, silver and acid green that enhance the emptiness in the work: an atmosphere of utopianism devoid of everyday realism.
Kobe makes his paintings using many layers of paint, built up to create chromatically varied and rich areas of colour that are kept in place by masking tape. In this way, there is an element of painterly collage, of different viewpoints, buildings and trajectories being compressed together in one image. The buildings are sometimes unfinished, without roofs or walls, provisional support structures that are like scaffolds for the picture itself. Different areas of the paintings are handled in different ways – mostly, it is applied in a perfectly smooth, flat manner, the blocks of colour working against the depth or reduction of space in the composition. At other times, it is modulated – a rectangular mirror pool of water, for example, is mottled and indistinct, since the paint has been dragged or squeezed onto the surface.
In some works the trace of the human hand has been mostly elided, although parts of the canvas are left unfinished, a kind of intervention in the hermetic surface of the picture. In this way, the works introduce an element of human error, a kind of elapse, an entry point for the viewer. In another work, a ceiling or floor – it is unapparent which – is made up of rectangular pod-like structures, sculptural steel trays which seem filled with black liquid. The shadows are unrelentingly black making the buildings seem otherworldly, un-naturalistic and fantastical.
The structures in these pictures reference architectural modernism, and its emphasis on sheer horizontality, open-plan living, and visually bisecting lines. But rather than suggesting support structures for daily life, these are non-specific places referencing the corporate architecture of new towns, world fairs or airports: the accumulated blank interstices in the modern world. Kobe's paintings seem to borrow from several sources, not least the seamless style of popular science fiction, as well as a tradition of abstraction in Modernist painting.
Martin Kobe has been in group and solo exhibitions in Germany, UK and USA and recently at the Museum für Bildende Künste, Leipzig and East International, Norwich.