OXFORD.- The phrase suffering for your art is a well-worn one, but few artists have taken it as literally as Ezra Cohen, who is opening his own veins in the run up to his latest exhibition. The gory story is not atypical of an artist known to seek out inspiration in extreme experiences. Cohen smears his own blood into the paint to symbolise both man's oneness with nature, and his capacity for violence against it.
Cohen's imagination is shaped by his youthful experiences of wandering in East European forests. He says that walking for hours - without sight or sound of another human being - caused the near-mystical sensation of feeling his spirit dissolve and merge with that of the forest itself. It's these moments of immersion he seeks to share in the extreme forest scenes which make up this exhibition.
Cohens primal painting reveals his interest in some of the art world's most controversial bohemians, from the spiritual anguish of Edvard Munch to contemporary Expressionist Anselm Kiefer, whose notorious Nazi salutes provoked righteous anger in his native Germany.
Cohen shares these artists' embrace of the irrational, working in an instinctual way which sees him attach wire, soil, leaves and string to the canvas as he draws viewers into his imaginative world. Showing both the branches above and the roots below, Cohen's work is sure to attract debate with its wild and earthy spirit.
With these added found objects, Cohen's work has a sculptural dimension, yet it's also deeply painterly. Indeed they reveal a dramatic and skilful understanding of oil paint's ability to behave in different ways. The thick, cracked surfaces which feature in many of these works suggest parched earth, capturing the violent, primordial nature of Cohen's adventures in the wilderness.