Fishtown’s frosty First Friday — House Gallery 1816

[Roman visits House Gallery 1816 in Fishtown, Philadelphia, to talk with artist Brian Cote about his abstract painting technique and view Cote’s new 5th Street series. — the Artblog editors]

It was bitter cold and the streets were empty, but the warmth of a modest crowd and delicious bean soup made for an intimate night of the arts.

Henrry Rodriguez on guitar and singing
Henry Rodriguez on guitar and vocals

House Gallery 1816 is home to two accomplished artists: Michelle Marcuse and Henry Bermudez.

Henry Bermundez, Michelle Marcuse, and Brian Cote
Henry Bermudez, Michelle Marcuse, and Brian Cote

Marcuse and Bermudez open their home to present the work of various artists and the many mediums of expression. It’s an atmosphere welcoming all who come. Brian John Cote, a resident of Fishtown, was the featured artist this night. His art has been exhibited in New York, Berlin, London, and at home in Philadelphia.

Brian Cote
Brian Cote

Cote has a unique approach and philosophy to his art of abstraction. He begins with a wood panel, applies paint, then adds polyurethane. He allows this to dry, sands the polyurethane, and applies a matte medium and begins the second painting layer. This process continues up to 30 layers, until Cote no longer needs to adjust the surface. Yet, the final layer reveals all the preceding layers through the evolution of the painting.

An organic discovery process

Cote does not intend for the end result to represent a clear or even a vague suggestion of a familiar image or object. He explains, “It’s more about a searching process…It’s within the process that some new shape is starting to appear…If there is a shape or image that I am familiar with, I get rid of it… The shapes and the colors I am not familiar with are those I keep.”

Brian Cote, 5th Dawn of a New Day
Brian Cote, “5th Dawn of a New Day”

Larry Spaid, professor emeritus at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and an accomplished artist, described Cote’s paintings from the 5th Street series (named after the place where most of the paintings were produced), noting that the paintings “remind me of layered microcopies…This is due to their square formats, overall organic shape usage, and hue choice…His layers are compulsive in their execution and rich in their visual and technical depth.”

Brian Cote, Design concept for illuminate frame
Brian Cote, design concept for illuminated frame

Brian Cote’s work history includes graphic design and illustration; he also works as a house painter. These skills became evident as I read through his journals. Various detailed design concepts for some artistic framing designs appeared numerous times.

Brian Cote, 1984 Berlin 15
Brian Cote, “1984 Berlin 15”

It was the sketching–the first concepts of future paintings and philosophic prose–that allowed me to see the inner thoughts of this artist. Cote, although very introspective and sometimes out of touch, embraces the clarity of those occasional lucid epiphanies, as moment by moment becomes a part of our lives forever.


On Februrary 27, House Gallery 1816 will host a panel discussion entitled  “The Painted Image and the Artist Identity”. The panel will include Charles Burwell, Brian Cote, Larry Spaid, Quentin Morris, Kukuli Velarde, and A.M. Weaver.

All photos by Roman Blazic. Roman is the second of three generations to participate in the arts. He is a board member of the Friends of Penn Treaty Park and staff writer for Fishtown’s Culture Awareness Center. Roman is an active supporter of the Fishtown and East Kensington art scene, and also contributes photographs to the local community groups and newspaper.