Born in 1919 and raised in Chicago, George Cohen was a well-known artist and teacher in the city. One of the generation of figural expressionists who turned away from non-objective abstraction and Abstract Expressionism that dominated post-war art in New York, Cohen played an important role in defining a new Chicago-centered figurative art that became identified as the Chicago School. The Monster Roster, the loose association of local artists with which Cohen most identified, included Leon Golub, Cosmo Campoli, Seymour Rosofsky, and Ted Halkin, among others.
Indeed, Cohen’s interest in the unconscious is reflected in Figure where he paints a distorted feminine figure, which a viewer is invited to construct from dissociated body parts (the legs, the disembodied hands-within-hands) and symbols like a woman’s high-heeled shoe and a red lipstick-painted mouth. Suggesting a strong sense of movement, on the other hand, are what appear to be two humanoid legs in motion growing out of an upside-down head, wheel symbols and other recurrent circles, and what might be a ball in play thrown by a disembodied and multiplied hand. The figure is certainly monstrous, yet it wears a smile and conveys a playful sense of endeavor, as if participating in a Mayan ballgame or a tribal dance. The addition of twine collage on the face and in the hair of the figure, and holes drilled through the cheeks and eyes, contribute to produce the ritualistic mask-like impression of the face that evokes associations with the ‘primitive other.’