Cathleen Cohen

Operation Smile

Cathleen CohenCathleen Cohen’s abstract watercolor paintings are concerned with space, movement across ground, and with the ground itself. Often the natural world is a departure point, such as light slanting through a window, or the street at sunset. She’s tried to develop a lexicon, a vocabulary of tones, shapes and marks, all used to convey movement and mood.
This work relies on careful placement, the nature of the mark, and attention to edge. The ground is often white, creating a vast sea of space where color, mass and line can reflect one another. A blank page might suggest tranquil waters, the mind in meditation, or the quiet of held breath. Breath leads to heart beats, which lead to unexpected rhythms and to poems. Poems always circle below the surface of my paintings, vying for attention.
After years of painting abstract watercolors, Cathleen found herself embarking on a new project this year– portrait painting. Perhaps it was due to her turning 60, the birth of their first grandchild, or the marriage of their daughter to her beloved. She felt compelled to make paintings of family and friends, those whom she connects with in work, adventure, memory, challenge and love. She began with women in her life, planning to turn to the males next. No doubt,Cathleen Cohen though, her initial focus had much to do with her own identity, projections and sense of time passing. The medium of watercolor affords immediacy, quickness, and an ever-present light that emanates from the paper. Darks and lights are key in figurative work, just as in abstraction. White space continues to intrigue her, similar to how line breaks function in a poem. Indeed, she often writes poems inspired by these paintings. Alice Neel, a master of psychological portraits, claimed to be a, “collector of souls,” like Checkov. It is a challenge to paint someone’s portrait, to depict the play of the emotions across a face or the gestures of a body. But it is a privilege to sit quietly with someone for a long time and attempt to capture their likeness.

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