Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road, London.
Two Journeys at Flowers Gallery is an opportunity to see works by painters Bernard Cohen and Nathan Cohen, the first time that father and son are exhibiting together.
An East London gallery might seem like an unlikely venue to spend a sweltering Saturday afternoon, when everyone else in the city seems to have decided to patron parks and café terraces. But this is when Bernard and Nathan Cohen chose to give a talk to expend on the content of their show. No matter, the event attracted a large group of art enthusiasts and the venue’s peaceful and unassuming environment was the perfect setting for a curated conversation with the two artists.
This family affair has created an intriguing show and at first I struggled to distinguish which artwork belongs to whom, as they function so well together that you might assume that they are the products of a single artist’s vision. Soon differences begin to emerge though and Nathan‘s sharp geometric shapes, well defined colours and slightly more experimental approach with his play on perspective contrast with his father’s more traditional use of standard canvases which he combines with a more chaotic and dense use of abstract elements. Both painters might not quite be British art household names, but they have long and successful careers behind them and their paintings are much more complex than they seem at first glance.
The talk itself was a fascinating insight into their practice, but also into how their early life shaped their desire to become painters and influences their work. Bernard’s memories of being a child during the War and details of his Jewish orthodox background gave us a vivid picture of how his experiences contributed to his development as an artist.
Bernard Cohen has also been involved in art education throughout his life, including teaching at the Slade. I am never a fan of art tutors who don’t maintain an active practice alongside their teaching activities. I find that they tend to lack the ability to challenge themselves and others creatively and their disconnect to the art world often means they tend to revert to just being overly didactic. Nathan Cohen pointed out during the session that tutors should never ‘impose their will’ on their students, instead nurturing their choices and development without trying to control it. I wish this was written in stone at the entrance of every art college in the country…
Cohen senior’s regular use of the word ‘chaos’ to describe his drawings and the execution of his paintings also resonated with me. So did his statement about needing to believe in what you do and his choice to let the work have a ‘sense of mystery’, this as he gently deflected questions that (rather annoyingly) seem to want him to explain every step of his inspiration and thought process.
A video of the talk is available here and I would advise any artist or/and student to check out that footage. The exhibition itself should be part of anyone’s East London gallery binge. Even when the sun is shining outside…
The exhibition is on until 5 May 2018 and more information can be found on the Flowers Gallery website.
All images courtesy of Flowers Gallery.