Wed 6 Sep 2023 to Sat 30 Sep 2023
Artist: Bernard Cohen
Private view: Tuesday 5 September, 6pm-8pm
Flowers Gallery presents an exhibition of new and recent paintings by Bernard Cohen, one of Britain’s most significant painters. This exhibition marks the occasion of the artist's 90th birthday.
The works in Things Seen demonstrate Cohen's continuing process of reinvention, in which each painting has a distinctive self-contained identity. The works are characterised by vivid planes of colour intersected by overlapping linear structures, often echoing forms and patterns seen in the surrounding world, relating to personal experience.
Living and painting in Paris in his early twenties, Cohen became enchanted by the luminous stained glass of Sainte-Chappelle and the monumental, loosely brushed Nymphéas of Monet. He was struck by how the leads within the glass both accentuated and disrupted the sacred images at Sainte-Chappelle. After many hours there he would walk to the Orangery and Monet’s Nymphéas paintings, where he would wonder at what he has described as the "seemingly relaxed and loosely applied web of colour". For Cohen, the paintings manifested a universal view of nature, and like the stained glass, demanded long looking. Paintings in this exhibition, such as Come Morning (2023) evoke complex effects of this sustained study. Here, Cohen's use of line performs a unifying structural function, while overlapping and dissecting forms also introduce elements of chaos, reflecting the visual cacophony of everyday life.
Looking at great art became an essential part of Cohen’s life, from emblematic Hokusai prints and paintings to wall tiles from the Middle East, encompassing all types of art that were made to be visually accessible but that demanded much focused looking. Cohen’s own aim as an artist has long been to create emblematic paintings that say many things, but are realised as one thing. This he describes as "Complexity and singularity. Oneness."
A central structure within several of the paintings, including Light After Dark, And Scatter, and Fool's Home, is a sequence of linear shapes recalling the composition of Velázquez's Las Meninas, a painting that Cohen describes as "taking place in the space that the viewer occupies". Cohen applies similarly complex pictorial strategies, using raised dots of paint to emphasise the significance of the space in front of the canvas, in contrast to the scene reflected beyond the picture plane.
Working at a large scale was and remains a sign of his belief in a future. He says: "The 50’s, those post-war years, called for one to open one's arms, take a deep breath and work to make a wide and deep space. In short, something that expressed the joy of moving beyond war."