The ultra modern house with its airy spaces , is a perfect foil for the massive, stunning, abstract expressionist paintings that adorn its interior walls. They are riveting and compel you to stop in your tracks and look hard. They are the works of Shirl Cohen, a life-long artist, born and raised in Toronto who says she feels she has been “drawing from the day I was born”.
When she was 18 she married the love of her life, Sid, who was just 19. They had four children, two boys and two girls and worked hard – focused on their family, building a home , making a living. But never did she let go of the artist within her.
Susan her the youngest of the four, reminisced. “I would be waking up and coming down for breakfast when I would meet her coming upstairs from her basement studio, covered with paint, from painting all night.”
She began painting as a child and has explored many different art styles, including sculpture and pencil sketches. Until 40 years ago, she describes her style as pretty traditional. But an exhibition of art glass catapulted her into abstract expressionism which is really “who I am”. There is a complete freedom in this style of painting that completely suits her. “There are no restrictions,” she said. “You have to create entirely from yourself. It’s exciting because its constantly new. It’s always a challenge, every painting, even after all these years.”
Here in her own words she explains: “I found that through an unbridled use of colour and form I could make profound and honest statements…In some mysterious way my paintbrush exposed my soul and poured out my strong feelings toward people and nature. The kaleidoscope of colour in the ever -changing-Canadian landscape is present in all my work.”
Sid, who developed a successful business as an electrical contractor, was a pillar of support and encouragement from the beginning. He built a spacious studio for her in their basement with special lighting. He stretched the enormous canvases and took them to be perfectly framed. He would even buy the oil paints for her, more than she -trying to economize- asked for. Sid died this past December . And she is still mourning the death of her son- in- law three years ago, Susan’s husband, Neil Kendal, who “was like a son to me.”
Shirl invites everyone to an “Exclusive Art Reception” at her home, Sunday May 28th, 12 pm to 4 pm, 111 Rose Green Drive, Thornhill. Most of the proceeds of the sale of her paintings will go to the Brain Project at Baycrest. RSVP [email protected].
Doris is a multimedia journalist with many years of experience. She has worked in radio, television and print journalism and writes on a variety of topics, especially the crucial issues in Canadian and Jewish life.