Seattle lost a wonderful artist last month. Christopher Martin Hoff died of heart failure in his home in March. I was introduced to him through a mutual friend that i met in a class in Geography a few years ago. She was convinced that we needed to meet. I avoided her invitation because i have a hard time meeting new people. But last Spring, i was assigned to teach GEOG 490, Seattle: A field research course. I knew that i wanted students to create visual representations of the their city. I actually didn’t require much in terms of a final paper, but wanted them to learn to see their city. I brought in artists and artisans from different walks of life. Christopher was an obvious choice.
When i met him in a coffee shop, i was stuck by the absolute gentleness of his soul. His eyes were kind. I don’t know how else to express him. We met a few times before and after his lecture to talk about his work. I was constantly struck by his earnest sweetness – a kind of honesty that you don’t always get when you meet people randomly in a city.
Christopher was a plein-air artist – meaning you could see him throughout the city, setting up, breaking down, or simply painting – on any given day of the year. He was modest in appearance, yet boldly set his easel wherever his sights set him. He lectured the class on the beauty of capturing the city, of meeting the moments of truth and honesty in the most mundane. He could find the beauty in the most absurd places and moments.
He was obsessed with Melville’s Moby Dick when we discussed his work – always referencing the subtle beauty of the literary work in his paintings. I wanted, so badly, to buy the piece that was the alley behind my apartment during one of the worst periods of my life – he brought it to life in a way that i could never explain to visitors. He reminded me of the life that is embedded in the supposed deadness of a forgotten space.
He was a visionary and a realist, wrapping the mundane in the most mystical of stories that set Seattle in a light that only the truly ardent could ever really appreciate.
We were supposed to grab coffee when he returned from NYC last Fall. I was too busy to call him. He was… i don’t know … to call me. But i am left with a reminder that no matter the messiness of life, there is always time for connection. And he has left me with one last lesson …