Ed Cohen: I Am Nobody, Who Are You?

Ed Cohen

December 11, 2014 - January 17, 2015

Winston Wächter Fine Art, New York is pleased to announce its third solo exhibition with New York-based painter Ed Cohen, I am nobody. Who are you? Cohen’s new body of work draws its titles from the writings of Emily Dickinson, and explores the tension between the fragility of life and Dickinson’s notion of immortality, the dialectics between rebellion and community, futility and purpose, sorrow and joy, solitude and kinship. The show explores and expresses humanity’s eternal search for purpose.

Cohen continues to draw on Zen Buddhist philosophy, which asserts that being and nothingness are inextricably linked. In paintings such as I cannot rule myself and when I try to organize my little force explodes (2014), Cohen’s splattered acrylic ‘petals’ recall the action painters Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, invoking the consciousness of being; in The lassitudes of contemplation (2014), the stillness of Cohen’s almost perfect circles creates a meditative calm.

In the sequence of paintings With just my soul on the window pane (2014), If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off I know it is poetry (2014), and We remember a moment of epiphany in front of a painting (2014), colorful organic structures crawl and explode on white grounds. Recalling the energy and playfulness of Dickinson’s verse, their biomorphic forms evoke joy, beauty and rejuvenation but also decay, destruction and death.

Since 2006, Cohen’s paintings have featured 3-dimensional foregrounds of poured or splattered acrylic on flat backgrounds; this exhibition marks his movement from the plane of the picture into the gallery space with installation and sculpture. In his work The unknown is the largest need of the intellect (2014), Cohen places a line of painted bags of Thai rice in front of a Buddha. Rice is the most widely consumed food in the world and it is the crop most threatened by climate change.

Thanatos (2014) and I cannot rule myself and when I try to organize my little force explodes call our attention to the love and heartache inherent in human existence. In Thanatos, a knife pierces the canvas in a gesture of passion and violence. In I cannot rule myself and when I try to organize my little force explodes, we see only a euphoric explosion of paint, an act of jouissance (the title of one of Cohen’s text paintings). Dickinson said “parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell,” in testimony to the human pleasure of communion with others and the consequent agony of loss. The heart Cohen bares in this cycle is deeply personal – what Dickinson describes as the Ourself behind ourself concealed, the title for a 2014 white-on-white circle painting.

Cohen states, “Dickinson had a deep passion for living, but she was constantly grappling with death. She didn’t believe in religion like her family but she had a belief in what she called immortality. She had an extraordinary gift for language which is freer in her letters than in her poetry. She found the universe in a small town in Massachusetts just as Arbus found all of humanity in New York. She was filled with sorrow as well as her own joy in family and her dog and nature and her garden and in language. Poetry for her was a way of living–expressing herself to herself. Only 4 poems were published in her lifetime.”

Ed Cohen (b. 1942) attended Amherst College and The University of Virginia Law School. He has had solo shows at TRANS>, New York (2005), Jeannie Freilich Contemporary, New York (2006, 2008), Artgate, New York, and Seoul (2009), and AKA Space, Seoul (2009).