I will not begin the painting until something I have never seen or considered before comes into my mind’s eye, and then I will focus on it and the means I shall use to bring it to life on the canvas. – Bernard Cohen
Flowers Gallery is pleased to present a survey of works produced over the past fifteen years by Bernard Cohen. About Now: Paintings and Prints 2000-2015 traces the continued progression of Cohen’s complex pictorial language, in which densely interwoven lattices of line, shape, pattern and colour are explored as a way of processing and recording experience.
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive catalogue About Now written by Ian McKay, drawing attention to enduring and, in some cases, overlooked themes present throughout the artist’s work.
Cohen’s paintings take their starting point from simple underlying structural compositions, which divide the canvas into distinct linear pathways and segments, such as crossed bars or architectural elevations. Superimposing intricate networks of lines, dots and planes of colour, with recurring figurative motifs such as doors, windows, aeroplanes, railway tracks and fragments of the human form, Cohen creates dizzying arrangements, within which an internal sense of order is revealed to the viewer gradually over time.
In the painting entitled Reflexus I, 2002, lines are warped and fluid, forming organic matrices which fold in and back on themselves. Cohen describes the painting, whose title comes from the Latin, meaning ‘a bending back’, as “a looking back, turning back, going back and seeing, through what has been, to what went before.” This sense of ‘looking back’ also appears in paintings such as In Black and White Time, 2004, in which an octagonal aperture or window provides a view of a preserved and unembellished first layer of paint. As Ian McKay proposes, the dense spatial complexity of Cohen’s work causes time and memory to become conflated: “In the sensory overload of the moment that we first encounter such a Cohen painting, time shifts, becomes elastic as it were, as we grasp a simultaneous multiplicity of spatio-temporal possibilities.”
According to Cohen, his paintings can be seen to contain multiple paintings within their composition, held together by an overall organizing principle of rhythm. The painting Pictures at an Exhibition, 2003, takes its title from Mussorgsky’s piano suite of the same name, in which the music follows the progress of a viewer around a gallery. Mussorgsky represented the viewer’s experience of each artwork by variations of key, mood and tempo; similarly within Cohen’s painting, the nuances of colour and line in each layer alter the flow and tonal balance of the whole.
The works presented in About Now reflect an unrelenting process of discovery, and an attempt to generate and unravel the full complexity of life, which McKay describes as an “ongoing search for meaning in its broadest, most human sense.”