Slippery Conditions: A Show of Drawings by Cora Cohen
Cora Cohen: Bridge Freezes Before the Road at the New York Studio School
May 31 to July 10, 2016
8 West 8th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues
New York City (212) 673-6466
Driving on winding country roads one often sees the cautionary yet poetic sounding sign “Bridge Freezes Before the Road”. You know to check your speed, pay attention to the surface and be warned for vehicles to spontaneously spin out of control on black ice or hidden pockets of slush in otherwise apparently normal circumstances. As a show title, “Bridge Freezes Before the Road” alerts us to slippery conditions and challenging possibilities of Cora Cohen’s paper surface.
Cohen is a formidable abstract painter who is known for deploying several different mediums and approaches within a single work. Recent bodies of work strive to make the act of perceiving or making the major preoccupation of the work. There are hints of her historical influences, whether Jean Fautrier, Henri Michaux, Wols, art brut, art informel, New York School painting or Far Eastern art, to name a few, but her subjects, choice of materials and themes come from her own reserves.
This show, which was curated by Karen Wilkin, is a perfect opportunity to glimpse at how the artist might see drawings as they are being made in her studio, as, unframed, they are informally pinned up and hung in groups that may or may not relate to a larger painting or signal a nascent theme. The show comprises 27 works from the last decade made on synthetic and natural papers, in sizes ranging from 9 by 12 to 22 by 30 inches with titles such as “Hybrid Indexical Adventure Series” or named according to dates in action or completion. The titles are unambiguous despite the somewhat generic dating. They underscore, as does the title of the exhibition that the artist works from her experiences of first sight, combined with a very wide range of influences that she draws away from as the works themselves develop. I list the materials: graphite, acrylic gesso, acrylic medium, watercolor, crayon, colored pencil, pastel, Flashe, archival ink-jet, wood-veneer, pigment – not because the amount of them is so extraordinary by today’s standards, but because of how well she knows them and in turn coaxes freshness out of them in drawings of delightfully unexpected combinations and poetic compositions.
In 08-15, (2015) fragmented sinewy crayon lines meander over a richly developed whitish surface. Traces of lines can be found below areas of added colors of minty green, blue, yellow and coral. At a glance an image of a figure in a squatting position with a large right foot at the bottom of the page might be found but as your eye slows and the upper half of the page is explored, now an aerial view of land in which solid forms begin to appear as pattern. Maps, seasons, climate changes and such seem to be collecting on the page. Washes of grey have the effect of toning down clacking yellows, while dry pastel seems to be blanketing the lower portion. Something that is very powerful in this particular work is the way it can make us feel engaged in discovery as we look. The surprise of seeing entire worlds encircled below certain areas with marks and textural shifts keep us searching for more. It is as if the sounds of a full orchestra are made by just a clutch of instruments. And as in a concert hall, the worlds one viewer finds won’t necessarily correspond to the discoveries of another.
In 015-11, (2011) veils of delicately hued liquid cover much of the off-square format. Brushstrokes sink into the creamy paper: successive layers lighten some areas while in other places pigments bleed and pool to make natural edges for new shapes. Drips and splatters become attributes or relationships rather than signifiers of process because in Cohen’s work, everything gets worked into the image. A big swath of a cloudy medium collects and dries in the lower left half of the page forming crystalline shapes like those found on freezing windows. Four or five biomorphic forms, hovering atop it all, are significantly more densely colored than the environment they occupy. Their edges are circumnavigated by colored pencil and graphite in repeated routes that frequently slip away from the forms they describe, to instead create areas that invite the viewer to mentally fill them in. There is a smoldering awareness that as these floating things resolve into one form or object then like a cloud they can becomes another. It is something of this world, with its allusions to atmosphere, lichen, algae, crystalline forms and geological peaks and something of an altogether alien plane, a hybrid existence.