Bernard Cohen is considered one of Britain’s most significant abstract painters, whose paintings tell stories about identity and experience. This upcoming exhibition of recent works at Flowers Gallery demonstrates Cohen’s sustained enquiry into the complex chaos of everyday existence.
Since the 1950s Cohen has developed a wide range of inventive techniques and processes of painting, creating labyrinthine compositions of line, shape, pattern and colour. Cohen's paintings will often tell many stories at once, using distinctive strategies of layering, superimposing, and condensing multiple images to establish intricate networks and relationships.
In a display in 2017, Tate Britain described Cohen's paintings, both individually and as a whole, as "a series of diagrams about painting.” This approach developed during the 1960s, with works that incorporated many small independent paintings. (For example, Matter of Identity, 1963, in the Tate collection.) Cohen refers to the inner paintings as ‘small objects’, that together establish the identity of the whole painting. In his recent works, Cohen interlaces recurring individual figurative motifs such as doors, windows, airplanes and railway tracks, to form an accumulative coherence and logic.
The composition of the painting How to Paint the Milky Way is underpinned by a cosmos of dots, contained by various cube-like planes and lattices, suggesting elements of domestic interiors. Bernard Cohen recalls: "During a long stay in New Mexico I experienced a daylight that was so bright that it voraciously consumed objects, while at night at 10,000 feet, away from any artificial light, the Milky Way appeared as one overwhelming physical object. What is a painting and what fills it? Where is its all-containing identity? I continue to ask myself these questions.”
Naksan is characterised by details of crashing waves within snow covered seascapes. The vertical format photographs are dominated by a blank plane in the lower half of the image. This is where the accumulation of snow on the beach is rendered as a singular flat surface devoid of any detail, scale or perspective. Naksan takes its name from a beach on the east coast of South Korea that faces Japan.