He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York City, then was a student of Charles Hawthorne in Provincetown, Massachusetts, after which he enrolled at the Académie Julian, the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and at the Atelier de Fresque and Colarossi in Paris. He also was a member of The Art Students League of New York and studied with the famed Hans Hofmann.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
He was born in Russia and immigrated with his family to the United States when he was one year old.
His art was highly praised by Alexander Calder, who once said, "As long as there are people such as Al Kotin, there is no danger to art."