Illustration: Marlene Cohen. Healing.
Marlene Cohen is a British textile artist that has taken her own strong and contemporary attitude towards her chosen medium, and created a distinctive style of composition and layering that is entirely her own. Cohen uses both printmaking and fine art disciplines, along with the usual aspects of textile work such as layering and stitching, to produce work that although technically part of the quilt medium, has managed to stretch that medium farther than most.
Although Cohen works in a wide range of colours, tones and textures, I have chosen instead to concentrate on a series of pieces that she has produced in a much lower and much more minimal colour scheme. Shoah is a series of pieces that, although seemingly stark and severe, are in fact full of the most astounding build up of imagery and text that is strong in graphic, illustrative and fine art techniques.
Illustration: Marlene Cohen. Target Zero.
These pieces, to my mind at least, seem to have a number of reference points that lead to the drawing of similarities to some aspects of the leading edge of European graphic design work in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly those artists and designers who dealt with the exciting photomontage medium. However, Cohen's work could never be said to be derivative of that era. What it does share is that same powerful and uncompromising imagery that places it at the forefront of the senses. This work is not meant to be harmonious with its background, but is meant to make an uncompromising statement and in this it shares a position with so much of the fine art and design work that that was at the forefront of the Modernist movement.
This series of textile pieces is extraordinary in it's focused awareness of what is truly achievable through the textile medium, rather than what is expected or delivered. It is uncompromising and skilful, and although dealing with historical issues that are highly personalised, the compositions can also appeal on a much wider level, those dealing with compositional balance, graphic awareness and strident ambience.
Illustration: Marlene Cohen. Cover Up.
It is artists such as Cohen who are both pushing the boundaries of what is expected and accepted as textile art, and also and perhaps more importantly, expanding the parameters of fine art itself, allowing it to ultimately include aspects of textile work on an equal basis. Cohen's work seems to deliberately cross over various discipline boundaries and so her work can well be appreciated by individuals who have a background and interest in general textiles, quilting, printmaking, graphics, illustration and fine art.
The more expansive and uncompromising textile artists become in both their focus and their range of creativity while at the same time retaining the unique aspects of the textile medium, the more seriously textile art will be taken outside of the immediate discipline. Cohen is an artist that is at the forefront of this movement towards fine art acceptability.
Illustration: Marlene Cohen. Mixed Messages.
Marlene Cohen has exhibited widely, she lectures and writes profusely and has her own comprehensive website where much more of her work can be seen, along with the imagery shown in this article. The website link can be found below in the Reference links section.
All images were provided with the kind permission of the artist.