The San Francisco-based painter Kim Cogan (b. 1977 in Korea) had his first solo exhibition in New York City this spring, at Gallery Henoch. Cogan focuses, for the most part, on the small-scale intimacies of urban neighborhoods. Even when he takes the wide view, offbeat subjects trump icons. The epic sweep of Queensboro Bridge (2008) is less interesting than the night-time industrial roofscape Kentile Floors (2008), with the smudgy black letters of the sign floating like an apparition against the light-polluted sky. Rooftop views are a way of gaining distance, of letting buildings resolve themselves into geometric forms. “I’m always trying to balance abstraction and realism,” remarks Cogan, who cites Richard Diebenkorn as one of his inspirations. He also admires the work of contemporary Spanish realist Antonio López García and Edward Hopper. Hopper’s existential sidewalks are clearly a model for Cogan’s corner store paintings La Bonita Bakery and St. Michael Grocery (both 2008). Cogan’s streets are depopulated, adding to the eerie isolation of these artificially lit outposts. He forces the perspective so that the non-descript low-rises heave up like the Flatiron Building and the side streets hurtle off into darkness at expressionist angles. In another night scene, End of the Alley (2008), a long vantage point makes the perspective lines of the encroaching buildings shoot off in Caligari-esque diagonals. A rosy-red fire escape, lit from below, is another disorienting feature.
In all these images, there is a convincing sense of spatial recession; at the same time, the brushwork demands attention, unmistakably announcing that this is oil on canvas. Cogan celebrates painterliness: “Every single stroke of paint has its own properties. You get drips, it gets messy and goes all over, but I feel it is important to let the paint work on its own.” This attitude is paramount in Stairway (2008), a view up a staired street, where streetlights blur into streaks of yellow-white and blank building walls take on washes of abstract color. While many of Cogan’s cityscapes juxtapose artificial light against night shadows, he also finds painterly opportunities in broad daylight. Cortlandt Alley (2007) plays perspective games with an elaborate arrangement of shutters and fire escapes, but this time a wedge of pearly white light floods in from the top of the picture. Paint smears mimic the effects of sunlight, while retaining their autonomy as surface daubs. Perhaps the sunniest painting in this exhibition is Late Afternoon at Bowling Green (2008). An old-fashioned subway kiosk, the kind with pillars and pediment, sits with its doors open to the light. Behind it, elegant white municipal buildings rise in Beaux-Arts splendor. Shadows cut sharp diagonals, but the overall mood is sun-drenched, with a nice balance between representation and painterly gesture. Not all the pictures have this poise—Water Tower (2007), a near-square canvas, does not have enough spatial complexity. But this is clearly an artist to watch. Gallery Henoch, 555 West 25th Street, New York, New York 10001. Telephone (917) 305-0003. On the web at www.galleryhenoch.com