Bernard Cohen will turn 80 this year. In celebration Flowers Gallery are pleased to announce a forthcoming exhibition of his paintings spanning 1961 – 2013. The selection reflects his devotion to consistently subjecting the medium of painting to challenging and thought-provoking methods of development in a process that continues to this day.
Widely recognised for his contribution to contemporary painting since the 1960s, his work is known for tensely wrought and unpredictably complex colour fields and has been exhibited regularly both in London and internationally. In 1959 following a visit to his studio from art critic Lawrence Alloway, Cohen was invited to partake in the renowned ‘Situation’ exhibition to be held at Royal British Artists Galleries in 1960.
Today, it could still serve as a demonstration that abstract painting is not one sort of painting, let alone a genre, but a wide spectrum of activity much of which remains unexplored. […] His painting is still vivid to me […] in these instances and in others, Cohen had combined austere design with a disruptive intervention. - Norbert Lynton 2009
Throughout the 1960s Cohen’s painting practice went through a ’campaign of exploration and invention […] challenging his own assumptions about what a painting could be and do’. In 1966 he was chosen to exhibit alongside Robyn Denny, Richard Smith, Harold Cohen and Anthony Caro at the Venice Biennale. Flowers Gallery acknowledged this era of Cohen’s work by exhibiting a survey of the decades painting and drawing in 2007. Ten works from this period will be included at the forthcoming exhibition.
During the late 60s Cohen accepted an invitation to teach at the University of New Mexico. He travelled around New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico then to New York. In 1972 the Hayward Gallery hosted a retrospective of his work. The exhibition’s first gallery comprised of 170 selected unframed drawings ‘to show the fluidity and unpredictability of his search for forms. This made a tremendously impressive overture to the paintings exhibition that followed.’ After the Hayward show Cohen’s extensive travels fed his creative sensibility seeking what he called ‘constructed lyricism’:
He wants his paints not to pile up physically, but to stay close to his canvas surface even when visually his forms run up against or over each other. […] The aim, always, is clarity. We spectators are free to look at a path for it. - Norbert Lynton 2009
Since 1998 Bernard Cohen has been represented by Flowers Gallery, his opening solo show ‘Paintings of the Nineties’ demonstrated the longevity of his creative insight and influence. Over the last decade to the present day Cohen has continued to expand on a variety of working processes, ensuring his on-going relevance in contemporary art.
With the later works however (by which I mean from the Nineties onward), I can speak as a contemporary witness, and I don’t think I am overstating the case if I claim for them a relevance to this age that is sadly lacking in so much contemporary art. Here is an art that stands up four square as an intellectually rigorous practice and it demands to be considered. - Ian McKay 2009
I have found that most artists search for a formula, find it, stick to it – and make their reputation based on it. Yet Bernard develops his visual language in every work he takes on. - Matthew Flowers 2009
Throughout his career Cohen’s oeuvre has gone through many extraordinary, extensive and influential developments. Educated in the post-war climate of change and cultural upheaval, this era, charged with the reverie of reconstruction would come to inform his work for the remainder of the century. During a lecture in 1996 Cohen recalled poignant experiences which shaped his dedication to his artistic vocation. Namely two instances: a statement from Kenneth Martin that Cohen set against the violence and consequence wrought upon London during the second world war, ’It doesn’t matter what you do in your painting so long as you build something […]’ and Art Historian and longstanding Slade Professor Rudolf Wittkower who informed Cohen ‘He revealed to me the humanity that lay within created objects, and the humanity and value of discussing created things’.