Helen Scheuer Cohen

  • hanging junk art
  • Perched 3
  • Portal Series 2
  • Portal series 3
  • Sense of Place 3

Bio & Artist Statement

My work as a painter is informed by my eclectic life experience as a documentary filmmaker, mother of a child with special needs, and urban planner. My painting practice is visceral, immediate and emotional – a counterpoint to the more cerebral, analytic activities that occupy much of the rest of my life as a producer/director. Using paint, collage and a variety of drawing materials, I explore the internal and external landscapes I occupy; I am interested in the dynamic relationship and juxtaposition of raw, natural forms combined with the diverse quality and rhythm of lines that evoke emotional meaning.

Through the use of mixed media, I explore the themes of home/sense of place, balance and boundaries, memory and nostalgia. My work evolves as a conversation between the space and skin of the canvas and the variety of materials I work into it: bold and opaque shapes and colors, drips and watery washes, scribbles and scratches, fragments of discarded paintings, as well as written words and graphic elements taken from journals, sketchbooks, and the detritus of daily life.

I was greatly influenced by the late Leigh Hyams, my mentor, teacher and friend for over twenty years. Leigh’s greatest gift to me was nurturing an insatiable joy and curiosity about art, and cultivating an ability to see the art in everything – shapes in the negative space between tree limbs and the beautiful lines in sidewalk cracks; the variety and vibrancy of colors in dirt and vegetables; the temperature of light. Other artists who have influenced my work as a visual artist include Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Joan Mitchell, Amy Sillman, Alan Berliner and Marlon Riggs.

www.statesofgrace.com (trailer for recent documentary film I directed/produced)


Art & Research Interests

In my paintings I strive to break down the dichotomy of internal and external, visceral and spiritual. Using mixed media (paint, collage, and a variety of drawing materials), I create curious juxtapositions and relationships of forms and marks on the canvas, working with the concepts/metaphors of openings and portals; bridges and crossings; nests and bowls and forms that convey a kind of nurturing and nostalgia. I am interested in the relationship of narrative and abstract forms and objects to one another, in both 2D and 3D formats. As a documentary filmmaker and mother of a child with autism, I am fascinated by stories, voice, language and how they inform intelligence, perception, and meaning. I intend to explore these ideas in my first year project.  Research will include delving into the Robert Rauschenberg Archives and the Rauschenberg Research Project housed in my home city at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (e.g. gaining a deeper understanding of the anatomy and evolution of Rauschenberg’s piece “Collection”, which is part of the permanent collection at SFMOMA).  I will also draw inspiration and ideas from other artists such as Cy Twombly (use of writing, letters, scraps of journals etc), Robert Motherwell (particularly his collage work), Amy Sillman and Cole Morgan. More theoretical and conceptual research that will inform my work, particularly as it relates to the exploration of the “archive” of my daughter’s life and development: the prolific and fascinating writing of Oliver Sachs; Temple Grandin’s “Thinking in Pictures”; and also possibly exploring the work of filmmakers/video artists Alan Berliner and Bill Viola.


archive; memory; combines; thinking in pictures;