Kirstie Cohen | Island Light | oil on canvas | 50cm x 120cm
At this moment many people are missing nature’s sensations, the invigorating wind, the play of colour and light in the sea and sky, or the reassuring solidity of mountains. Whilst these are intensely physical spaces, they are also psychological, imaginative states of awareness that enable the mind to fly. In the hands of an artist like Kirstie Cohen, meticulous layers of rich oil paint are transformed into land and seascapes we can sense, feel and hold within us.
In the Northern Romantic tradition, there is a strong sense of awe in the solitary human being beholding nature and becoming conscious of forces greater than ourselves. The attraction of so many to the Highlands and Islands is perhaps to come face-to-face with the true scale of humanity, the beauty and terror we feel when confronted with ancient geology, or the eternal sea. The enormity of nature seen in Caspar David Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea is a source of profound stillness and contemplation, while the vortex of a JMW Turner Snowstorm presents us with untamed changeability and sheer power human beings will never control. This dualism finds expression in Kirstie Cohen’s Island Light (2020, oil on canvas, 50cm x 120cm), a panoramic, abstract composition that grapples with light and darkness, the elusive, subtle hues and sublime balance found in contemplation of nature.
Kirstie Cohen | Orange Sky | oil on canvas | 75cm x 95cm
Cohen’s latest work brings the viewer closer than ever before to the ‘Sturm and Drang’ of the Scottish Highlands and deeper, into the holistic nature of the Gàidhealtachd. Perception of the landscape not as property of scenic vista, but as a multidimensional reality, encompassing land, people and memory has ancient roots and immediate contemporary resonance. Though Cohen’s landscapes are unpopulated, we become conscious of human perception that makes imaginative sense of the world around it. In form and feeling her paintings affirm what it is to be alive in the face of nature; in the glorious warmth of Orange Sky (2020, oil on canvas, 75 x 90cm) or the blaze of light triptych Sea Birds (2020, oil on canvas, 40 x 92cm), where the spirit of the landscape and the soul of the viewer equally take flight. The fresh, invigorating brushstrokes in Mountains (2020, oil on board, 26 x 30cm) create a kind of mirror, embracing internal reflection and forms in the landscape.
Kirstie Cohen | Cliffs | mixed media | 27cm x 34cm
Recent experimentation with mixed media has introduced exciting new textures and compositional shifts in Cohen’s dynamic oil paintings. Cliffs (2020, mixed media, 27 x 34cm) is a fine example, communicating the cliff face as a presence in form and texture. Shafts of colour and light create a triptych inside the picture plane. This structural harmony and balance in layered mixed media skilfully co-exist with the raw energy of instinctual brush marks. The heightened sensory experience of Dark Mountains (2020, oil on board, 40 x 40cm) owes much to the artist’s maverick approach. Dark Mountains extends the development seen in Cohen’s 2019 solo St Kilda – An Atlantic Journey exhibition, fuelled by direct engagement with her chosen subject and experimentation with mixed media in the studio. The perspective in Dark Mountains could be rising out of the sea, with delicate brushstrokes like birds’ wings in the sky, but the overwhelming feeling in this painting is metaphorically aerial. This is total immersion, standing on mist which engulfs the viewer’s foreground, hearing emerald waves and the surge of seafoam. Cohen communicates ancient knowledge of the landscape, not dominion over nature but human vulnerability and wonder in beholding it, standing firmly on the earth.
In Kirstie Cohen’s masterful paintings, human consciousness in communion with nature has always been constant, but here and now it seems even more pertinent in how we relate to the world around us, beyond the current frame.
Kirstie Cohen | Dark Mountains | oil on board | 40cm x 40cm