Bernard Cohen b. 1933

Bernard Cohen is a British painter, regarded as one of the leading abstract artists of his time.


Cohen discovered painting at the Walthamstow School of Art, goin on to study at Central Saint Martins in London between 1950 and 1951 and the Slade School of Art 1951-1954, where he was deeply influenced by William Coldstream. In 1957 Cohen received the Boise Traveling Scholarship and, together with the French Government Scholarship awarded to him in 1954, he was able to travel and work in France, Spain and Italy.


Following various teaching positions throughout the 60s and 70s at Ealing School of Art, the Slade, Chelsea College of Art and Design, the Royal College of Art and the University of New Mexico; in 1988 he was appointed Professor and Director of the Slade School of Art, UCL, a position held until 2000. He was part of The Situation Group, featuring in their group portrait by Sylvia Sleigh (1961; NPG 6817) which is on display at the National Portrait Gallery, London.


Cohen's first solo exhibition in London took place at Gimpel Fils, in 1958. His work has been internationally exhibited as part of several touring exhibitions by the British Council. Other notable exhibitions of his work have included 'Five Young British Artists', the 1966 Venice Biennale's British Pavilion show; a retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in 1972 titled 'Bernard Cohen, Paintings and Drawings 1959-1971', which toured to Newcastle and Leeds; 'Artist in Focus, Six Paintings from the Tate Gallery Collection', Tate, London, 1995; and a 'Spotlight Display' gallery at Tate Britain in 2018. International exhibitions have included 'Stroll on! Aspects of British Abstract Art in the Sixties', Mamco, Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva in 2006; and 'Abstraction and the Human Figure at CAM’s British Art Collection', Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon in 2010. Cohen was invited by Michael Craig-Martin to exhibit at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2015.


Cohen's paintings are concerned with process as much as image, with an early influence being abstract Expressionism, often involving overlapping patterns, shapes and line, producing multiple images within each composition. This complexity invites us to spend time understanding the relationships between these different elements as well as experiencing them together as one coherent picture. Both individually and collectively, Cohen’s works can be seen as a series of diagrams about painting. He has said that he is 'looking for ways of making paintings that contain paintings'.


The Artist's work is held in the collections of the Tate (ten paintings); V&A Museum; Government Art Collection; Arts Council; British Council; BBC; UCL Art Museum; Ben Uri Gallery; Swindon Art Gallery; Hepworth Wakefield; Walker Art Gallery and University of Liverpool; The Whitworth, Manchester; Burton Gallery, Leeds; National Museums Northern Ireland; Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Portugal; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.