Stuart Cohen’s painted Songs in the Night light up the walls of the Jerusalem Theatre in Israel.
British artist Stuart Cohen has painted for over 40 years, and at the moment he has a solo show of landscapes in the Israeli capital, at the Jerusalem Theatre until 15th February. Titled, rather wonderfully, Songs in the Night, the show is a presentation of beautifully painted landscapes that flatten forest lattices and reflective lakes into twilight abstractions; above all, it’s an exhibition that seems to celebrate the wonder of the natural world. The show’s curator, Noga Arad-Ayalon, spoke to Stuart about everyday life in Israel, about finding beauty in a sliced tomato, and about the Bible.
What are the subjects you paint? Well, I’m constantly drawn (no pun intended) to landscape, and to the wonders of nature. I often don’t intend to paint a landscape, but somehow it seems to go that way. I guess as an English artist it’s natural for that to happen, as if it is somehow imprinted in the national consciousness. There is the natural landscape and then there is the human, man-made landscape, and I am interested in trying to look into where the two worlds meet.
What inspires you? Just about everything. I have been known to fly into raptures when looking at the design of something like a sliced tomato, or the reflections of water in a puddle. It’s a beautiful and amazing world all around us. But to inspire – (the word has a meaning of looking/reaching upward) – I guess the natural world does really inspire me, but the one thing other than that which most inspires me is the Bible, because it is so very rich in amazing thoughts, profound wisdom and beautiful promises.
In what way does living in Israel affect your artistic work? Israel is an amazing and also a very intense place to live in. It’s very different for me when I’m here. There is a huge diversity of things going on, and massive problems – but it’s also a very special place on God’s earth. I love the light, which is totally different to English light. It also has a very moving and beautiful, if somewhat sad history. Although it’s such a tiny country (the size of Wales), it’s got a huge diversity of natural phenomena, desert, fertile valleys, forests – and areas around the Dead Sea that look like the moon… so it’s very interesting.
Who are the artists that you are inspired by? Samuel Palmer, John Constable, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, El Greco, Fra Angelico, Giovanni Bellini, Casper David Friedrich, Laura Knight and many more. If you set a very high standard for yourself, you know what you have to aim for, what you hope to attain to, although we will always fall very short of our ideals! Also many writers have inspired me, particularly Leo Tolstoy, and recently Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot). I love reading biographies of peoples’ lives that have really made a difference to the world; reading is one of life’s great pleasures!
What do you wish for yourself as an artist to gain from exhibiting in Israel? Well, having painted and slaved away at it for over 40 years I am under no illusions! But it’s great to have the exposure; I guess you want to reach an audience. We will see…….
Songs in the Night is at Gallery 1, The Jerusalem Theatre, until 15th February
Introduction: Dean Kissick
Interview: Noga Arad-Ayalon