Following the success of his debut exhibition at Huis Marseille in 2017, Jeff Cowen’s (b. 1966 in New York) second exhibition opens at the museum in June. The exhibition features works that Cowen has created over the past few years inspired by the Provence region in the South of France. Fascinated by the brilliant light and overwhelming nature, he captures his reflections with his poetic approach in this new body of work.
Analogue craftsmanship and experiment
In a world that is dominated by digital screens, technology, speed and overproduction, Cowen seeks to draw our attention to the sublime experience of nature’s beauty through his work. As a photographic artist, he keeps well away from the digital world and has a real hands-on approach to the craftsmanship of the photographic process. He uses self-made enlargers to create large analog prints on thick, wavy photographic paper. He experiments with darkroom techniques and chemical formulas, rendering each print a unique work.
While his photography encompasses all the traditional art historical genres, such as still life, landscape and portraiture, the alchemy in the darkroom during manual printing plays an important role, and in some works abstraction takes over.
The light of Provence
His working practices and the final result of Provence Works also make one think of painting. In the past, renowned artists such as Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh chose the region as a subject. The aesthetic of melancholy and the closeness with nature that they painted is also palpable in Cowen’s work. After years as a nomadic artist living and working in metropolises such as New York, Berlin and Paris, Cowen turned his lens to the Provençal terrain. The intensity of the mountainous landscape, the power of a simple artichoke, the vastness, and the often fiercely blue sky provide him with inspiration from nature in the same way as they did for Cézanne and Van Gogh. Through this work, he aligns himself with the artists who were able to translate their inspiration drawn from Provence into their art.
Cooperation between Huis Marseille and the Van Gogh Museum
Huis Marseille and the Van Gogh Museum will be participating in a special joint effort for this exhibition. Parallel to the exhibition at Huis Marseille, the Van Gogh Museum will present a small group of works by Jeff Cowen in their permanent display, alongside drawings and paintings that Van Gogh produced while in Provence.
Jeff Cowen grew up on New York’s Upper West Side and graduated in Oriental Studies from New York University and Waseda University, Tokyo. In the late 1980s, while earning his living as a New York City taxi driver, he also worked as an assistant to Larry Clark and Ralph Gibson, where he familiarized himself with various darkroom techniques. In the 1990s, he studied academic drawing and painting at the Art Students League and the New York Studio School. Cowen has particularly been interested in mating the power of painting with the power of photography, whereby the analogue image taken by the camera is never the final product, but marks only the starting point of the artistic reflection of the motif. The prints are attacked with various chemical procedures, and often contain post-darkroom finishing techniques of painting and collage. In 2001, Cowen moved to Europe. In 2021, he was awarded a Pollock-Krasner Grant for Fine Art Still Photography for his Provence Works project.