William Eckhardt Kohler: If I Were Going*

The Catskills Gallery, "Across the Threshold I Belong", November 4th - 28th 2021

Across The River (2021) 24”x24"
“Across The River” (2021) 24” x 24″

Since the OpeningUp, I’ve been looking for a show like this (without really knowing what I was looking for, of course.)
I mean paintings that are thoughtful and somehow tentative, exploring the new world that we find ourselves in.

Caspar David Friedrich, “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” (1818)



I thought of Caspar David Friedrich, not just because of the old-fashioned headgear but also that the man has paused rowing to contemplate. Though this painter has not travelled to the ends of the earth or to see the icebergs (though come to think of it that might be a good idea soonish.)

Do you know it was Heraclitus who said, “No man can step into the same river twice” adding “because it’s not the same river and it’s not the same man.”

There might be something to be said for going with the current though. At first the paintings in this show seem to be based on observation and I do think the painter has been boating, but the longer you look at them, say to try to figure out why they also express an inward journey, it becomes more and more likely that they are filled with metaphors, fragments and memories. In Across the River, perhaps that iceberg is after all, there, and that palm trees tower over it.


“I Know You Are Going” (2021) 24” x 18″

The man or in other paintings, the woman, is traveling—as if they were in another era than our own. Looking at the paintings, I think of my own journeying in the last year and change—how long has it been exactly?
In I Know You Are Going there is a half-submerged picture of a woman and the canoeist is paddling upstream. It’s perhaps unnecessary to have the picture—somehow we already know that the man is rowing to forget and to remember, and that is making it difficult to make any progress at all.

“Sitting On The Bank (2021) 24”x18″

It took a minute to realize this is one of Cezanne’s bathers. It put me in the odd position of not knowing whether I am her, yearning to cross the river, or whether she herself is the object of my attention. I start wondering if the blue box is a cooler, the white square a manuscript, whether the canoe is unmoored, whether the lines are trees or a pier or both, whether there are figures on the other side and so forth. Her leg in the river is very beautiful.


“In Last Light” (2021) 24″ x 24″

There are other paintings too that suggest a more symbolic floating journey à la Gaugin and Jung. I was more drawn to the ones I have talked about here that provide a more physical jolt of experience but I have found myself thinking of those others too. I will leave you to discover those for yourself.

The way that Kohler uses paint is also of interest—I haven’t quite seen it before. They glow from within. The pictures seems to be built up of semi-translucent strokes that sometimes build up to opacities and sometimes not, I suppose they are finished intuitively.


*The exhibition brought to mind the first book I remember reading in primary school: