Robert Stuart Cohen

About the series

Symbols and Series

It was not conscious at first, but after I left the dark figures of my early representational painting for abstraction, the square became a stand-in for the human figure. In the Mind in the World series, it represented animated thought. Initially, the relationship of the square to its surroundings was one of contrast. An intruder at worse, a visitor at best, the square was a “fish out of water.” A painted frame within a frame led beyond its borders and further reinforced the reading of the image as one of alienation. Human consciousness, i.e., reason, existed in an indifferent if not hostile universe.

Over time, the differences between figure and ground shifted, and relatedness, not contrast, was investigated. The square evolved into an extended rectangle, identified as a ribbon-like figure in the Pure Spirit series. Additionally, there was a shift to integration, from disconnectedness to cohesion. In recent compositions, a second canvas as opposed to a frame within a frame literally extends the relationship to another physical entity. This is explored further where multiple canvases create different sequences and unusual formats.

Pure Spirit

Adding color to a purely abstract, geometric plane, and turning it in space, I consider this ribbon-like figure the physical embodiment of pure spirit. As a symbol of the human spirit, transcending gender, race, politics and the personal, it is a balancing act of rationality, feeling, and energy.


 Composed with two canvases, the spontaneous techniques in one are contrasted with carefully blended transitions in the other. Each canvas is complete in itself, but as with Landscape Progressions and the Combinations series, the differences and relationship between the two become the larger subject.

Meditations 2022-3

A suite of compositions with mostly three canvases of blended color, these are the simplest of my enigmatic expressions, evoking emotion with subtle differences .

Combinations  2022+

In Combinations, each canvas is a composition in itself, and by joining abstract and representational styles, mixing media, recycling old work, and assembling multiple panels, larger and more complicated relationships are created, with surprises continuing to today. I regard the unusual formats as thinking beyond the box, embracing change, and extending boundaries.

Landscape Progressions

In 1970, inspired by a drive cross country I began a series of collages I called “Landscape Progressions.” Painting with a variety of techniques in acrylics on paper and then working selectively with collage, I combined colors and visual textures to suggest multiple landscapes. I made individual landscapes, framed them in plexiglas box frames, and organized them in sequences to suggest continuity and change. Compositions included borders for each landscape, which meant that landscapes were separated from each other.

In Landscape Progressions 2023, I assembled individual  landscapes without space between them. In this way, color and visual textures continued to be varied but made richer combinations  and more interesting connections. I also believe it made the individual less apart from to being more of a part of the whole.

Digital Prints 2022-3

These digital prints on metal and paper are not  printed reproductions of paintings, but original artwork using the computer. I paint the raw materials, photograph them, and then use Photoshop as a tool to create more complex illusions, dealing with images of change in terms of preserved fragments, the loss and erosion of past realities, and conservation.

2024- January through May

In my current painting, there is a turn from pure abstraction, which juxtaposed contrasting elements, to a quasi-representational style.  For fifty years, in multiple and different series, I employed illusion and symbol to investigate bridging differences and extending boundaries. My intent was to make visible a beautiful coexistence of differences. 

“Villages” continues and extends relationships as my subject, with an imaginary village serving as an expression of community, without overt expression of human suffering. For me, a cluster of buildings ambiguously slipping into or emerging from shadow, at sunrise or sunset, epitomizes the peril and promise of change.

Because I believe that change is an existential challenge to us as individuals, to our community, to the world today, the potential in change remains my focus. 

The Scenic Tour

Not everything I paint is in series, and The Scenic Tour is a portfolio of paintings, collages, and digital prints from 1984 to the present. It represents variations on the theme of change with different symbols and illusions.