Feb 2008 Journal
Milein Cosman and her sketchbook are rarely apart. Even now, when the diminutive artist’s eyesight is failing, it is an opportunity to discover the ‘abstraction’ – or essence of the person. Her pen-and-ink drawings of the many writers, artists and musicians she has met, who include Iris Murdoch, Francis Bacon and Igor Stravinsky, demonstrate this economy of line in order to capture the intellectual intensity of her sitters.
Cosman’s exhibition at the Austrian Cultural Forum, presented by the Jewish Museum, Lifelong Impressions: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, runs until 26 March. The artist’s life story, from her birth in Germany in 1921 to her fortuitous arrival in Britain to study art at the Slade, in London and Oxford during the war, were described in our January issue.
This energetic artist discusses her art and philosophy in a l23-minute interview she gave the researcher, Bea Lewkowitz, as part of the AJR-sponsored Refugee Voices Archive. Many of her sitters were contacts of her musician/writer/broadcaster husband Hans Keller and her drawings of the musicians can be seen in the Wigmore Hall in London and the Palais des Beaux Arts in Paris.
Only two works at the exhibition relate in any way to the Holocaust, which she and most of her family were spared. Flight, a lithograph she did in 1941, won the Slade Lithography Prize and was inspired by a cousin’s personal story. A pencil drawing of Belsize Park Tube station, Shelter in the Blitz, from this period does not quite convey the mass of sleeping bodies seeking shelter in London’s wartime underground.
‘I do not carry nature into politics, and it is not right,’ she says, while admitting that the recurring dark, brooding clouds over the Rhine - for example in an oil painting depicting her father - may contain a hidden meaning. In the AJR interview, she reflects: ‘It is a miracle for my generation to be allowed to go to art school when horrendous things were happening in Europe.’ Today, you could describe her drawings as rapid leaps of faith - instantly grasping the energy of conductor Otto Klemperer, the profundity of Martin Buber, for instance.
A near-death experience propelled cyclist Tim Smyth into an artistic vision.
The Nature of Machines launched the opening of a new West End photographic gallery, Rathbone, in Windmill Street, where Smyth’s broken fragments of vehicles in which people lived and died bear no resemblance to their scrap metal source. The indentation and pock marks arising from these often tragic accidents form what he describes as a photo documentary. He accepts that the epiphany which led him to photography can be morbid. Tim uses old technology to achieve this organic art, rejecting the digital camera for the old bellows and tilted lens.
There is a simple aesthetic in Scott Schwager’s exhibition at the Arts Club, Dream Imagery and the Art of Disguise. His Symbolist drawings of entwining hands and birds suggest a rite of passage, and his abstract paintings, such as Circle of Life, reprise this theme in brilliant colours.