“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. 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
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 “Looking at a Flower” 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.