Stories: Joseph Cohen

Stories: Joseph Cohen

“I want a piece to be something physical, without it being an image or a depiction of something … ‘a thing in itself’ that, when light is shone on it, it becomes active.” ~ Joseph Cohen

Houston-based artist and scientist Joseph Cohen helped create nanomaterials in the labs of world-renowned research institutions; the use of which resulting in an expansion of his artistic methodology in ways never before achieved. The unique optical and physical properties of these nanomaterials have guided the creation of his most recent work, taking him into new directions, and are often most evident when a special light hits the canvas. Building on Chapters 1 and 2, Chapter 3 of his trilogy introduces Cohen’s “Nanostrings” series, accompanied by a hexalogy of multi-layered squares and one central piece. These new works incorporate a range of nanomaterials – from tracer dyes to separated carbon nanotubes – that fluoresce outside of the visible spectrum, both ultraviolet and infrared.

Akin to his previous works, they are comprised of countless layers that create a topography, which may be broken down and better illustrated through different wavelengths of light. His works allow for multi-dimensional viewing: when observed using a handheld light source (385nm), they transform; and, when the lights are off, there is an evident glow from the inside of the works because of the use of purified phosphorus.

Using equipment traditionally used in research laboratories such as a probe sonicator and centrifuge, he makes paint at the molecular level. By incorporating specific nanomaterials into paint created for his work, he works in a manner akin to a scientist by “doping” and altering molecules to exhibit new properties. While the works appear ephemeral and still in normal lighting conditions, the medium becomes active, releasing photons in the atmosphere when specific wavelengths of light excite the material. If framed properly, viewers can enjoy Cohen’s work more fully on those terms. Cohen states:

“My intent is to take something static and give motion to it through my art, allowing the experience to become participatory for the viewer.”

Joseph Cohen was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Cohen received his MFA from the University of Texas in San Antonio, where he also taught undergraduate drawing and received his BFA from Texas State University in San Marcos. Cohen’s art practice has afforded him the opportunity to travel the globe and take part in international projects, residencies, and exhibitions. For the past decade after returning to Houston, his artwork has been acquired by The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, he was awarded best in show at Lawndale’s Big Show, and he has given presentations at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, The Menil Collection, and the Children’s Museum of Houston, among many others.

Following the artist’s 2015 solo exhibition in New York at De Buck Gallery, Cohen began working with leading figures in the science and health industry. This led to an Artist-in-Residency program being created for the artist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York. Likewise, Cohen has taken part in Artist-in-Residency programs at Rice University, and the Houston Methodist Research Institute, collaborating with researchers and scientists.

For over three years, Cohen has been working in Houston, New York, and Gaithersburg (MD) developing works from nanomaterials in an effort to develop a conversation between the two fields of art and science that goes beyond the superficial and fully integrates artist-researcher in ways never before seen.

Cohen is also the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Davis Cohen Art, a full-service art advisory and appraisal firm. To learn more, visit Follow the artist on Instagram at @josephcohenart.

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