Coronadiaries: Alfred Cohen’s Marguerites

The American-born painter Alfred Cohen lived and worked in the village of Wighton, Norfolk for two decades before his death in 2001.

Alfred Cohen, painter, was born in Chicago in 1920.

I’ve written about Cohen’s exhibition in London, about 20 years in the planning, which opened and closed on the first day of the Coronavirus lockdown, here.

With some 50 pictures, painstakingly assembled from the UK and US, the show  remains on the wall at the Arcade at Bush House, King’s College London, presumably for the duration.

The newly refurbished holiday cottage attached to the gallery & home where his wife Diana Cohen still lives has several Cohen prints on the walls, including this, an artist’s proof of Marguerites.   (Disregard the vertical striped reflections on the right of the glass.)

Painter Alfred Cohen's print Marguerites

Alfred Cohen’s Marguerites 

A recent homework assignment from the London School of Mosaics was to prepare a mosaic design of a basket of fruit.    In the manner of Roman examples below:

Like most of my homework it didn’t get done.

But in the age of coronavirus, the time had come.  A basket with canned food seemed more appropriate.

Italian polpa, and the Jolly Green Giant, came to hand

I traced Cohen’s work and added Italian canned tomatoes, Green Giant  sweet corn, and a generic tuna.   Pleased by the curling lids.

Marguerites and canned goods, a mosaic tribute to Alfred Cohen

Studying or copying a work, this time for a mosaic adaptation, is always a way to closer engagement with line, shade, palette.   It seemed Cohen’s frame within the print would work in natural stone.   The strongly painted colours of the basket and the fruit, the chequered stamen, better in brightly coloured glass, smalti; I can test if these two work together.     Cohen uses strong black or dark lines around and within colours.   For the basket, this cross-hatching could call for a black grout.  The same might work around the petals; alternatively,  though much more work, a black mosaic line.

The next test was to expand the drawing, while limited to an A4 black and white printer.    Failing to find an easy way to print an image in parts, I copied six sections from the photo in Preview, pasting and creating a new file and printing an enlarged version.  The pieces (mostly) connected, though its possible the image widened.   I used masking tape and Pritt to join the overlapping pieces, and began to paint.

Cohen and cans in progress

Painting, day one, (April 6th 2020).  In terms of a workable mosaic design I was still swerving the real hurdles:  painting in the cans, and how to turn Cohen’s quick swipes of black paint into an andamento, or use a black grout or cement, testing black acrylic as a mixer.      I struggled with choosing background colour between the flower petals.

Norfolk has set a number of mosaic art projects dancing in my head.  To finish the class assignment of a domus mosaic, based on paintings of Norfolk churches.   To create a painting and mosaic design of the starfish we found on the beach, using natural red stone, of which there is a wonderful variety, to create an “unswept floor” with shadows (and  why not a background of sand, but this takes one firmly into craft souvenir territory).   To see how far one can assemble a working palette from different Norfolk stones and shells, as the earliest mosaicists could have done.   But Cohen’s Margueritas appeared a good working project.

Painting, day two:  (April 7th 2020).   Taking on the cans, playing with shades of green, grey, red, and pale blues; adding a little of the background – planned in a pale brown natural stone, and a very artificial white for the pot.   Learning that acrylics dry very, very fast in the sun.

Cans and paint

The background colour shades, among the flowers and the framing round them, are the next decisions.

Work in progress

Mosaicing:  11/12th April 2020.  I outlined some of the andamento, covered the tracing with blue plastic and started testing some mosaic ideas.  From a pancake of yellow smalti from the school, I chopped small jagged pieces, and tried a first flower, using pieces from the the stronger yellow side closer to the stamen.  I coloured the cement dark with acrylic black.

mosaic flower

With a limited supply of mosaic tiles, I was saving the stronger smalti colours for the blooms, and used translucent tiles for the basket, using slices of darker translucent chunks for the dark outline.


adding the basket

I had bought the translucent tiles, and a corresponding transparent glue,  with the idea of working on mirror or glass.  On grey cement their colours were darkened; the colours showed up in sunlight but fell very plain in a room; an idea is to go back and try a reflective  underlay of silver foil to reflect the light.  For the border, white chunks of stone.