Painting in the 1960s and 1970s

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Private Collection, UK


London, Hayward Gallery, Arts Council, Bernard Cohen, 6 April - 14 May 1972, cat no.17 illus colour, touring to:
Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery, 3 - 25 June
Leeds, City Art Gallery, 1 - 23 July


At the time Bernard Cohen painted Browns, 1962, he was much aware of the role of parody in Chaplin films, and very struck by the use of traditional modes of face-painting in the Japanese theatre to produce what both was and was not a mask; on an actor’s face another face would be painted, each facial feature being placed just above the `real’ one it mimicked. In Browns, Cohen embodied his face-painting fascination by starting with a clean white surface, while watching the action of his own hand progressively blocking out the light. The quality of light and reflection, and the control of colour by these factors, have continued to be of much greater concern to him than hue itself. In the present work the main stem sprouts a smaller replica (mimic) of itself : the irregular red/brown brush strokes enhance the analogy with natural systems – the black line might be pushing its way through the earth or be a river taking its easiest course through a rock. Small flicks of paint along the edge of the organic lines ritualise and solidify the quick action of the hand. 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. Born in London in 1933, he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1951-1954. In 1988 he was appointed Professor and Director of the Slade. Cohen came to prominence during the 1960s and has since exhibited widely. Ten of Cohen's paintings are in the permanent collection of the Tate Gallery.