Bernard Cohen has described himself as “A storyteller and a creator of pictorial theatre”. His tensely wrought and unpredictably complex pictures hold a unique position within the canon of contemporary art.
From the early 1960s he began producing paintings that were idiosyncratic and deliberately disparate in style. The intertwined, meandering lines in a painting such as Knot (1962; Belfast, Ulster Mus.) soon began to be rendered as a dizzying profusion with the aid of an airbrush in works such as Untitled Diamond (1964; Minneapolis, MN, Walker A. Cent.); the latter is one of a group of works in which strips of masking tape were removed to reveal the under-painting beneath. The consistent development of procedures arising from a concern with process (which had its roots in both the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock and the sense of ritual characteristic of Cohen’s Orthodox Jewish upbringing) was the link uniting paintings of otherwise bewilderingly varied appearance.
In the mid 1970s Cohen exchanged his earlier preferences for broad expanses of flat colour, spontaneously applied paint and soft focus, for a meticulous technique and a dense layering of patterns and motifs. In these paintings, which swarm vertiginously with textures, colours, stencilled and drawn shapes, Cohen found a way of relating his obsession with the procedures of painting to a range of social rituals, producing an art as complex in formal terms as in its metaphorical implications.
Cohen lives and works in London.