A review of a memorial exhibition of Seattle painter Christopher Martin Hoff's works, full of meditations on contemporary urban life. Through Aug. 25, 2012.

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If you want to see Seattle, see what’s at its core, then you want to see the paintings of Christopher Martin Hoff. There are no snowcapped mountains purple and orange in early morning light, no sunset reflecting off Elliott Bay, no billowing spinnakers on Lake Washington.

Hoff captured Seattle streets, streets with their overhead wires and traffic signs, alleys marked by graffiti and Dumpsters, industrial buildings and warehouses empty of people but filled with the evidence of hard work and productivity. His are not scenes we necessarily think of as “postcard pretty.” He painted the necessary, mundane components of our metropolis and imbued them with majesty. His paintings capture the vitality as well as the melancholy of urban existence.

The talented, award-winning artist died of natural causes at age 36 in March. A memorial exhibit at Linda Hodges Gallery includes finished and unfinished work borrowed from private collections and owned by his family. Aside from one self-portrait and a few pastoral scenes done early in his career, the exhibit reveals his meditations on contemporary urban life.

Hoff and a friend came to Seattle in 2000 from Georgia, where he grew up and studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Once here, he was captivated by what he saw as “the poetry of empty streets.” The ordinary became a reservoir for his creativity.

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The precision of his work causes the viewer to see what’s usually unnoticed — cracks in a sidewalk, yield signs, scraps of wood. And if you look closely, you might see a whale’s tail hidden away on a sign or building wall. Like many artists, he was fascinated with “Moby-Dick,” its symbolism, obsessions and religious substructure. He saw whale lines in the electrical and transit wires he painted; telephone poles were masts; and he viewed his own quest for perfection as perhaps ill-conceived, just as was Ahab’s determination to subdue the great white whale.

You might have seen him at work. As a plein air painter in the mode of the 19th-century Impressionists and so many great artists, he would set up his easel on the streets of the city and paint, in good weather and foul. Usually he had many canvases under way at the same time to guarantee that light conditions were always the same when he was working on any one painting.

In addition to the Seattle paintings, the exhibition includes his unfinished works documenting the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site. For this, the Elizabeth Green Shields Foundation awarded him a grant.

Hoff was a serious, full-time artist who lived a simple life, devoted to his art and to his many friends. He had so much talent. He was gone far too soon.

Nancy Worssam: nworssam@earthlink.net

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