Helen S. Cohen
My studio is a refuge where I delight in the immediacy and messy, visceral process of making marks – working with color, line and form using a variety of media and methods. Each composition takes shape through a kind of spontaneous call and response – an intimate conversation between the canvas and the materials I work into it: bold and opaque shapes and colors; drips and watery washes; scribbles and scratches; fragments of discarded paintings; ticket stubs, receipts, messages left on the kitchen counter as well as written words and graphic elements taken from journals, sketchbooks and the detritus of daily life.
In my paintings I explore the idea of “sense of place” and all its myriad layers of meaning. What has evolved is a kind of mapping or cartography of experience that has both geographic and psychological dimensions to it, working with metaphors that hold emotional meaning for me — horizons, openings and portals, bridges and border crossings; nests, bowls and vessels.
My work as a painter has evolved alongside two other central aspects of my life: my work as a documentary filmmaker and my experience as the mother of a child with a developmental disability. As a filmmaker, I’ve explored different approaches to visual story telling that have influenced my more abstract work as a painter. As a mom, I’ve been immersed in the world of non-verbal learning and communication, fascinated by the mysterious process of language acquisition and the ways in which language informs intelligence, perception, and meaning.
In recent years I have been developing a body of work (Beyond Measure) using collage materials drawn from years of accumulated educational and aptitude tests, work sheets, homework, and my daughter’s marks and artwork. Working with these materials as collage elements allows me to reconfigure, reclaim and place the ripped and torn fragments into different constellations, giving them their own unique presence while adding texture, dimension, and personal content to the work.
In addition to the many varied artists whose work I have studied and been inspired by, I was greatly influenced by the late Leigh Hyams, my mentor, teacher and friend for over twenty years. Leigh’s greatest gift to me was nurturing an insatiable joy and curiosity about art, and cultivating an ability to see the art in everything – shapes in the negative space between tree limbs and the beautiful lines in sidewalk cracks; the variety and vibrancy of colors in dirt and vegetables; the temperature of light. I’m guided by this awareness and “visual language” in my studio practice.