Interview with Cora Cohen 1998
Bentley Gallery

BG: How would you classify your work?

CC: Operationally my work is abstract, yet representations do occur.

BG: Your love of the actual painting process seems so evident.

CC: Yes, I do love the painting process, but it’s not a simple or easy love; it’s a love filled with frustration, hatreds, ambivalence. Paint has its own life. That life and my life have a symbiotic relationship which, although at times replenishing, can be difficult. In New York, I tend to work on many paintings at once, all different sizes. They sort of breed each other. Sometimes in a painting I’ve just begun, I can actualize an operation, infusing it with the content I haven’t been able to materialize in ones I’ve been working on for a while.

Since seeing El Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos de Cordoba in Spain. I have felt that a work of art considered and worked on over a long period of time may have resonances which works done in a shorter time span lack. Frequently I set aside paintings in which I’ve come to an impasse, or paintings which are not yet interesting. There are always several of this sort in my New York studio and I work on them from time to time, over a period of years. There are also paintings I have thought finished and gone into again. If these paintings are open-ended ones, such as Terrains Vagues, and remain so, they are frequently more successful.

In Köln, where I’ve worked for extended periods, I concentrate on clarifying my intentions and I work on fewer paintings. I test what a painting is really doing against my aims for the entire project. I attempt to reconcile the intentionality of the painting with my own goals and intentions, reworking the painting accordingly. Köln is perfect for this because there I am more private and introspective. The relative quietness of my existence there enables concentration; so does the respect contemporary art is accorded. This year I did a lot of drawing, the sort where you just stare at the paper and don’t do anything for a few days for quite a few hours a day and then one day you do four that are okay. That’s the sort of thing I don’t think I could do in New York.

BG: How has your work evolved over the decade? Where do you see it going?

CC: Increasingly I have put more of myself into my work. I want my self to be more available through my touch. Oil paint is particularly responsive. If compellingly asked, it participates in a call and response relationship with the artist. Embodying psychological and emotive qualities, my touch, through brush or hand, is clearly experienced by the viewer.

Pours are usually more distanced. They index the body yet are removed from it, acting as intermediaries between my body and the canvas. Even the brush is an intermediary but much less so than the pour. The pour and the brush are at cross-purposes on an emotive level. My actual touch (through the brush or my hand itself) has great potential for being tender. The pour is distanced, more removed. I use both to build content in a painting; at times one will be a foil for the other.

During the past decade, I have become increasingly interested in conflict, in works which don’t cohere, in art which shows weakness and foibles, in allowing all of the human condition into my work. I see my paintings accommodating more of life and living.

BG: How did you start incorporating so many materials and methods into your work?

CC: I don’t remember for sure, but I think it had to do with wanting some things in my work to seem as if they came from nowhere, for my work to have the appearance of phenomena. Of course, in the end, because the work did have the appearance of natural phenomena, it was as if it came from somewhere—that somewhere being a form of nature as opposed to culture, especially high culture.

My ambition had been to make paintings which were absolutely contemporaneous, totally related to the fastness and disturbances of urban existence. So much struck me in New York at the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s as plastic, technological, distanced and cold. My paintings then were a reflection of that, of my desire to re-collect in my work my experiences in living.

I wanted to move fast from painting to painting and I wanted the viewer to move with great fluidity within a painting. Pouring produces a lot immediately and the process is completely fluid. Pouring paint, sprinkling pigment are distanced procedures. They seemed right for that time, a way of bringing my work close to the phenomenological. The pigments and industrial materials I used grounded my work in the world of the “real” experience.

BG: Are your choices of different media purely aesthetic, or are you influenced by the emotional quality and content you wish to express?

CC: Nothing is “purely aesthetic”. In the paintings I’m involved with now and those from the past year (Won From the Heath, which has to do with struggle and being able to breathe free from the confines of a restraint or a constraint and Half Colors of Quarter Things, which is a nature forest painting) my choices are made according to the content I want for a work, for its consequent emotive and psychological qualities.

BG: How have your international experiences, especially your time in Europe, affected your work?

CC: When I first went to Germany for an extended period, I was isolated, alone and apart. I ran up against myself. I realized I wanted to look at paintings which showed more of the person who made them and paintings in which the underpinnings were apparent. I decided to make the sort of work I wanted to see. My painting became increasingly involved with psychological resonance and content. A sense of place, frequently the place in which they are made, gained prominence.

BG: Do you think beauty is a real factor in painting today?

CC: The beautiful and the sublime are not uninteresting, but my urgency is for a different experience. Paintings in which harshness and difficulty and even struggle take precedence interest me more. In my own work I introduce the strategic to counter the expressive. I find this necessary in relation to the historic moment. Allowing both the expressivity and strategy in the same painting elicits conflict. Each becomes the subject of questioning by the other.

BG: Any thoughts on where painting is going at this time?

CC: It’s going in a lot of directions, which I like. It would be pretty boring if everyone were trying to make the same painting. There are many different issues within painting today and ways of making a painting, yet no particular way is privileged. I’m very comfortable with this. It’s a relief when the hold of binary thinking lifts in favor of fluid operations.