Benjamin Cohen: Thoughts of Terminal Refreshment at Breese Little
Benjamin Cohen’s Thoughts of Terminal Refreshment launched Breese Little’s new gallery space in style this week. Nevertheless, it’s a confused and confusing style. The immediate impression is one of unease, of a jarring juxtaposition of warm pinks and endlessly bleak greys and whites. Once you get past the initial discomfort and settle on a single painting, the experience is like a sensory overload: layers of paint furiously compete with one another, each vying for your attention like the daily bombardment of advertising and marketing messages that typify contemporary existence.
It feels as if there is an ongoing battle in Cohen’s work between the figurative and the abstract, each pulling on the heartstrings. He forces you to reconsider the notion of a subject, the little hints of representational characters not quite fully formed enough to earn that title, and by extension reflects the label back on the viewer.
There’s also a sense of tension between the rigid, minute little details, and the more expressive, sweeping brushstrokes that feel fluid and natural. Study of an Interior/Exterior is an excellent example, with little boxy sections surrounding a flowing, fleshy puddle. It’s as if someone has spontaneously self-combusted under the weight of the surrounding oppressive monochrome.
It seems Cohen chooses materials that are traditionally challenging for a painter to work on, like the cool chrome finish of sheet aluminium, usually so smooth and textureless. Cohen scratches on these surfaces feverishly, forcing a texture upon them and adding yet another layer to his stacked paintings.
The dripping paint and layered strokes gives the works an almost kinetic quality, as though they are still moving, still being painted – they are unfinished or rather “infinished”, in a state of infinite flux. This makes inherent sense given Cohen’s working process: he composes the pieces on Photoshop, cutting, pasting, appropriating, filtering and processing images from magazines, websites and art history, before converting them into that most tangible format, the painting.
To complete the cycle, Cohen then photographs the resulting paintings and uploads them to the web, ready to be appropriated and remixed by others. The exhibited works, then, merely represent a snapshot, a single moment in this ongoing process. Thoughts of Terminal Refreshment effortlessly captures both the grey drudgery of urban life and the information overload of the digital age with refreshing panache.
Thoughts of Terminal Refreshment is at Breese Little until 2nd November 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.