Leonard’s legacy ‘doo­dles’ on ex­hibit at May­berry

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Carolin Ve­sely

WE know him as a poet, a singer, a nov­el­ist, a philoso­pher, a fe­dora-wear­ing ladies man and a robed, shaven-headed Bud­dhist monk.

Now Win­nipeg­gers will get to see a whole other side of the multi-hy­phen­ate known as Leonard Co­hen: vis­ual artist.

May­berry Fine Art (212 McDer­mot Ave.) is host­ing this city’s first ex­hibit of Co­hen’s art­works from March 9 to 23. The show and sale, en­ti­tled Leonard Co­hen — The Poet. The Painter. is sched­uled to co­in­cide with the singer’s Old Ideas World Tour con­cert on Mon­day, March 11 at the MTS Cen­tre.

The ex­hibit will fea­ture 35 of his still-life and fig­ure draw­ings, por­traits and self-por­traits — pulled from a pri­vate art col­lec­tion that spans decades, but never saw a pub­lic gallery space un­til 2007.

“The vis­ual has been part of his art for 40 years. It just hasn’t been shown in the form of th­ese prints; the tech­nol­ogy wasn’t there,” says gallery owner Bill May­berry. Each per­ma­nent ink print (in edi­tions of 20 to 100) is signed, ti­tled, num­bered and stamped with Co­hen’s per­sonal seal, two in­ter­lock­ing hearts. Prices range from $2,500 to $7,000.

May­berry says Co­hen, 78, is likely at the re­flec­tive stage of life where he re­al­izes his so­called “doo­dles” could be­come part of his legacy. For his fans, it’s an­other win­dow into the cre­ative work­ings of the Mon­trealer who be­came fa­mous for set­ting his po­etry to mu­sic.

“You can put th­ese up on the wall, play his mu­sic and en­vi­sion the characters he sings about,” May­berry says. “It’s like he’s putting im­ages to his po­etry.”

In­deed, Co­hen’s draw­ings have graced the cov­ers of his al­bums, and many were in­cluded in his lat­est po­etry col­lec­tion, 2006’s Book of Long­ing.

The pieces in the May­berry ex­hibit, which fol­lows the artist and his muses from 1960s Mon­treal to the Greek is­land of Hy­dra, re­flect the themes well-ex­plored in Co­hen’s mu­sic and po­etry: his love of women, sex­u­al­ity, de­sire and deep in­tro­spec­tion. There are sen­sual nudes — in­clud­ing one ti­tled My First Wife — green-eyed self-por­traits, red gui­tars, fruit bowls and black sun­glasses. Some have words or phrases on them.

In de­scrib­ing his art prac­tice, which was ap­par­ently an ac­tiv­ity he en­joyed with his chil­dren while sit­ting around the fam­ily’s kitchen ta­ble, Co­hen once wrote: “From a mir­ror on my desk. In the very early morn­ing. I copied down. Hun­dreds of self-por­traits. Which re­minded me of one thing or an­other.”

May­berry says he was ini­tially re­luc­tant to bring Co­hen’s art­works to Win­nipeg — they’re from the col­lec­tion at Van­cou­ver’s Granville Fine Art — be­cause of the re­cent trend of gal­leries pro­mot­ing celebrity painters, such as Burt Rey- nolds. That wouldn’t be Co­hen’s style, he says.

In a 2007 in­ter­view with Win­nipeg arts jour­nal­ist Robert En­right for Bor­der Cross­ings Mag­a­zine, Co­hen ad­mit­ted he has no spe­cial in­sights into the vis­ual arts world, and mod­estly de­scribed his draw­ings as “ac­cept­able dec­o­ra­tion,” that he never con­sid­ered would be shown in an ex­hi­bi­tion.

“Just as play is deadly se­ri­ous for chil­dren, so doo­dles are deadly se­ri­ous for me,” he told En­right.

At first glance, Co­hen’s art­works do have the ap­pear­ance of be­ing quite ama­teur, says May­berry co-owner Shaun May­berry, but they end up be­ing an­other ve­hi­cle for ex­plor­ing his mul­ti­lay­ered prose.

“He’s not pre­tend­ing to be a vis­ual artist, which I really re­spect,” he says. “They’re not laboured, they’re hon­est.”

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