In the 1970s, Baltimore’s Federal Hill was a poverty-stricken– inner- city neighborhood. Today, it bustles with activity. Stone and brick row houses complement new restaurants, boutiques, antique shops, art galleries and salons. Business suit attired men and women meld with local residents, blue-collar workers, yuppies and Raven’s-shirted-20 somethings. Elm trees with yellow and green blended leaves line S. Charles in front of The Mark Cottman Gallery.
Mark Cottman dressed in dark khaki colored pants and a blue short-sleeved shirt relaxes in his chair surrounded by his vivid colored art and discusses his passion.
“I am so excited that the colors come out excited,” said Cottman. “The colors always indicate hope.”
It wasn’t easy for Cottman, but he had hope and a positive attitude. He persevered like the renovators of “inner city” Federal Hill. Today, he is living the dream.
Beginning in the early 1990s, Cottman said that he worked as a stand-up comedian.
“I was always funny,” Cottman said. “You know you are funny when you make your mother laugh and she laughs so hard she tells you to stop.”
Cottman said that he learned stand-up comedy by watching the best comedians and that the funniest ones told stories. Cottman said that he was a good stand-up comic, and he also wrote for other comedians.
In addition, from 1994 to 1999, Cottman said that he worked as an accessibility officer for the State of Maryland. He wrote waivers for construction projects to enable them to meet accessibility standards, ADA codes, for handicapped people. He suggested changes for companies to comply with these standards. However, Cottman said that he was unhappy with the job politics at the State of Maryland for a few years and that he was passed over for a new position.
Cottman said that he decided to paint his “visions” and left his job for six months to promote his art. When he returned to work for the State of Maryland, he said that he didn’t fit in, because he was like “a round peg and my position was definitely a square hole.” His supervisor and HR personnel told him that he needed “mental counseling.” He said that they thought that I “slipped off the cliff.”
“So they slid this application across the desk for me to fill out,” Cottman said. “Two days later I had it upside down, I slid it back across the table and I wrote in big bold letters, I quit,” and he gave his two-weeks notice.
Cottman said that his coworkers were angry with him and that it was painful and he didn’t understand their anger. He said that he spoke to them and realized that they were upset because he was leaving to live his dream and it “reminded them of their dreams they didn’t pursue.” He said in order for them to deal with it they “lashed out at me.”
When he left his job, Cottman concentrated on his art. He also said that he sold his car and bought an old van for cash. He paid cash for his house to avoid debt and keep his expenses down.
“That was my plan and it worked,” said Cottman.
Cottman said he gets his inspiration for his art from life. He said that someone could come into the gallery and sit or talk a certain way and he and Antoinette Powell, his assistant, see it as art.
“I would call myself a universe creative receptor,” Cottman said. “I am always aware.” He said that it is like having a third eye. Cottman said that people who don’t have a third eye look across the street and see a building with glass. He said that we watch colors change and see shadows on buildings and trees. They listen to conversations as people pass and watch to see if someone is wearing an interesting color.
“There is so much stuff going on out there, it could keep you entertained forever,” Cottman said.
Powell runs the gallery. She describes Cottman’s work as different and vibrant. She said that passion drives Cottman and that he loves life and receives joy from his love of painting.
Cottman lives his passion daily. He and Powell view “Main Street” Baltimore (or Federal Hill) through their window that faces S. Charles Street. They watch diverse people blend like colors on an artist’s pallet. They see hope and art as people pass by.