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Drawings by a Ladies’ Man: Impressions of Leonard Cohen

”Come gather” Permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 38 x 30.5 cm (edition of 50) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen)
“Come gather,” permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 38 x 30.5 cm (edition of 50) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen)

Alongside his prolific career as a singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen has been a poet, a novelist, a monk in Los Angeles, and, perhaps most obscurely, an artist. Of the many roles the Canadian has played beneath his iconic hats, the 40 years of drawing in notebooks or later on a computer have remained mostly privately. In recent years he’s exhibited prints of this work, including a new exhibition called Leonard Cohen: “Hey, that’s a way to say goodbye” at Gallery Poulsen in Copenhagen.

“Dear Heather” Permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 76 x 101.5 cm (edition of 20) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen)
“Dear Heather,” permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 76 x 101.5 cm (edition of 20) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen) (click to enlarge)

The 50 prints and drawings in the solo show will be on view just from April 10 to 14, depicting the themes familiar from his melancholic and never self-serious music, including women, instruments, and self-portraits, many scrawled with lines of text. One drawing of himself that seems to be a single squiggly connected line reads: “Just one little guy, with an old tweed cap, against the whole stinking universe.”

“Hey, that’s a way to say goodbye” is the last in Gallery Poulsen’s series of Cohen exhibitions, and the gallery is definitely one to embrace more offbeat art, such as Aaron Johnson’s paintings of monster-like faces formed from socks in 2013. Many of the Cohen prints are stamped with his “Order of the Unified Heart” interlocked symbol, linking them into his larger body of work, which has often involved a variety of media, including back in 2006 when he published The Book of Longing with poems alongside drawings. For diehards, Cohen’s art has been familiar for a while, including through the online authorized fan site the Leonard Cohen Files which includes scans of his scrapbooks, sketches, and computer art. Now, Cohen has never been known for his guitar skills (one of the drawings has the words: “my guitar is so beautiful sometimes I wish I could play it”), but that’s never stopped his music from being compelling through his words. His art is much the same, animated at its best by his lyrical language. And like when he sings with that brooding baritone, he’s humble about the prints being high art. Here’s a poem by Cohen about his work shared by the gallery:

If There Were No Paintings
If there were no paintings in the world, Mine would be very important.
Same with my songs.
Since this is not the case, let us make haste to get in line,
Well towards the back.
Sometimes I would see a woman in a magazine Humiliated in the technicolour glare.
I would try to establish her
In happier circumstances.
Sometimes a man.
Sometimes living persons sat for me.
May I say to them again:
Thank you for coming to my room.
I also loved the objects on the table
Such as candlesticks and bowls.
From a mirror on my desk
In the very early morning
I copied down
Hundreds of self-portraits.
The Curator has called this exhibition
Leonard Cohen Artworks
I call my work
Acceptable Decorations.

“Green chair” Permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 76 x 51 cm (edition of 100) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen)
“Green chair,” Permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 76 x 51 cm (edition of 100) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen)
“My guitar” Permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 38 x 30.5 cm (edition of 50) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen)
“My guitar,” Permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 38 x 30.5 cm (edition of 50) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen)
“One little guy” Permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 38 x 30.5 cm (edition of 100) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen)
“One little guy,” permanent pigment ink on archival 300 lb. watercolor paper, 38 x 30.5 cm (edition of 100) (Courtesy of Leonard Cohen)

Leonard Cohen: “Hey, that’s a way to say goodbye” is at Gallery Poulsen (Flæsketorvet 24, Kødbyen, Copenhagen) April 10 to 14.

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