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 represents 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.

Today, the differences between figure and ground still exist, but relatedness—not contrast—is emphasized. The square has developed into an extended rectangle, used to advantage in the Pure Spirit series. Additionally, there has been a shift to integration, from disconnectedness to cohesion. In recent compositions of the Transitions series and Meditation series, as opposed to a frame within a frame, a second canvas literally extends the relationship to another physical entity. This is explored further in the Combinations series, 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 or made to look like two, spontaneous techniques in one are contrasted with carefully blended transitions in the other. Each canvas is complete in itself, but as with Landscape Progression and the Combinations series, the changes in 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 and most  subtle of changing relationships, with coexisting differences .

Combinations  2022-3

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, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

I regard the compositions as celebrating diversity, embracing change, and extending boundaries.

Landscape Progressions

In 1970, inspired by a drive cross country I began a series of collages I called “Landscape Progression.” 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 am juxtaposing landscapes without space between them. In this way, combinations of color and visual textures continue to be varied but are richer, I think. I also believe this changes an emphasis on the individual to its relationship to the whole, to one of integration. Continuity and change are enhanced, while the whole remains greater than the sum of its parts.

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, raising questions about the fragmentation and erosion of past realities, and conservation.