In his series of dizzying Mirror prints, Bernard Cohen uses grids, blocks, intersecting struts and bars to build geometric cages of great spatial complexity. In each print the dense layers combine with blocks and bolts of pure colour to make the work hard to read. While some elements are clearly mirrored, quite what is being mirrored and from which perspective, is not altogether obvious.
Cohen has acknowledged how he has used abstraction to express his responses to the world in richly imaginative terms. ‘Form begins for me with everyday experience,’ he has said while acknowledging that his dynamic, complex images reflect the equally complicated reality of the world we live in. ‘Maelstrom’ is a word that has been used to describe his work and Cohen sees this as highly appropriate as the word:
suggests a current, a force or rhythm that is carrying one along with which one has to find some way of dealing, rather than a dynamic to be passively commented on’.
However, Cohen’s method for producing these dynamic, overlapping forms is anything but chaotic or arbitrary. He uses rigid systems to divide up the space, describing his method as being similar to how ‘a table-top is divided up into parts when a meal is served’. His colours are then interwoven ‘so that one doesn’t see colour straight across the surface but interweaving with other colours’. Cohen sees his work in direct relationship to Cubism in that ‘it offers a heightened sense of the rhythm of reality’. The art historian Eric Shanes suggests that Cohen:
is relating those hitherto unexplored implications of Cubism giving us rhythms that exist ‘beyond normal sight’ through his complex interactions of fragmented, disorientated, loose or razor-sharp and always thoroughly dynamic imagery, interactions that are, moreover, resonant with implied meanings.
Bernard Cohen is regarded as one of the leading British abstract artists of his time. The younger brother of the artist Harold Cohen, he was born in London of Polish-Russian parents and trained at the Slade School of Art, London, from 1951 to 1954. He spent two years in France, Spain and Italy before holding his first solo exhibition in London in 1958. He has since held many solo shows, both in the UK and abroad, and his work is represented in public collections including Tate London; Mellon Collection, Yale; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Cohen has taught at many art schools and was Slade Professor at the Slade School of Art, part of University College London, from 1988 to 2000.
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