May 2021 Vol. 2, No.5
The Enigmatic Essence of Marieken Cochius
The artist Marieken Cochius, from the Netherlands, always had Wanderlust. In a sense it was inborn. As a child she moved often as her businessman father was reassigned and the family had to move. She was used to uprooting, resettling and starting over. Her grandparents, too, were wanderers, having lived in the Dutch colonies of Indonesia and Suriname. Cochius grew up listening to their stories about exotic places where wild jungle animals roamed, like monkeys and snakes, filling her imagination with the wonders of the far away world. In high school she developed her interest in art, and she chose photography as a more or less practical field where she could most likely make a living.
She was an art student at the Kunst Academie St. Joost, Breda, Netherlands, majoring in photography and film, when she first came to New York City. After her first visit to New York in 1987, she realized a longing to settle in the urban metropolis. In 1993, she quit school and emigrated, drawn like a magnet to the Big Apple. The artist explains, “I felt home instantly in New York. I need to pit myself against something larger than myself.”
For years she did what most struggling artists do, working odd jobs in bookstores, galleries and wherever she could to survive and make a living while dedicated to her art. In an often-told lament, she reflects on the plight of the struggling artist, “It takes tenaciousness to try to make it in art because you get so many rejections.” She proclaims that her art is all about nature, ironically in the big city. “My art and my essence are about the love I have for nature.”
Eventually she moved to the small town of Wappingers Falls, an hour and a half north of Manhattan, closer to the nature that inspires her. She paints in mixed media and sculpts, creating “assemblages,” stating, “I am inspired by natural things, by tree bark, cracks in rocks, the way grass bows when the wind is blowing, the ripples over water, the twisting of roots, of light and shadow.” Despite those naturist sentiments, she is not a naturalist. She works in abstractions, with feelings and inspirations rather than depictions of realistic objects in natural settings. Her work has an organic essence. She channels the intricacies in nature, the hidden worlds that many don’t see. The artist takes her inspiration from nature and transposes life into her expression, be it an explosion of color, a driftwood sculpture, or all these things that show the beautiful evolving earth. The viewer may not be able to identify the object, per se, in the abstractions, but will react to the organic essence, the intrinsic atmospheric memory of their own familiar relationship to nature. It works on raw, vibrant emotion.
Cochius explains, “I express what I see in the natural world. Sometimes an idea comes into mind. Other times it just flows subconsciously. I would go crazy if I wasn’t making art. It centers me, outside and inside. I love being in the studio. Sometimes I am inspired by external events, like the political situation, environmental damage of even the impact of artificial intelligence. For example, I did a piece about the Black Lives Matter movement (Friction Nr. 11, ink on paper) I work in series. One is not enough to explore the different parts of an idea. The pieces reflect off one another.”
The viewer will of course be oblivious to the inner motivation and inspiration on which the artist draws. Abstract art is an enigma. Unless they read the artists statements, they only see the final art object and connect based on their own intrinsic perceptions and feelings. In Cochius’ art, that may be an unworldly, spiritual and intangible essence, or, conversely, the curious feeling of seeing nature’s fuse.
Her three-dimensional sculptures use driftwood found in the Hudson River to great effect, seemingly teeming with life, as protruding branches intersect and intertwine in serpentine dances. One core element of her art is an underlying
subtlety. It seems as if she purposely works to bring out the understated, to see the beauty in the natural elements that influence her, the things others don’t easily see, be it a rock or tree bark. She takes us deep into the inner core of things, and that thematic is present in her artistic expression. Another aspect is what she uniquely refers to as “the nervous line.” Cochius defines this technique “It is a constant thread in my work. I make an irregular line. From there I work subconsciously using various mediums to bind connecting elements.”
“I have to listen to what the work wants from me. When it is a struggle between my brain and the work, the work always wins.”
Take Red Cloud as an example: “This was when I painted over another painting that just wasn’t right. This went fast. Less than an hour. I knew it needed these colors. I have a dialog with the pieces I am working on. I have to listen to what the work wants from me. When it is a struggle between my brain and the work, the work always wins.”
In another enigmatic mystery, a few of her artworks evoke portals into other-dimensional worlds, be they celestial or microcosms. The painting Portal, graphite, pastel, ink on paper, most closely shows in illusory entrance. Is it a black hole, a gateway into a subterranean cave, or a wormhole into the unknown? Her painting Origins, graphite, charcoal, paint, wax on paper, similarly evokes a passage, this time into a more fearsome, red hot glow, like a volcano, or worse, a gateway into the Christian threat of eternal hellfire damnation. Yet, the name implies the opposite. Rather than purgatory or molten lava, is Origins the symbolic depiction of the beginning of organic life? Is it earth's energy source which could power the first primitive predecessors of living organisms? Is it the natural cavern, the hydrothermal vents, where we find the catalytic cells that generated lipids, proteins and nucleotides which may have given rise to the first true cells? Only the artist knows. The viewers will see what they want to see. No matter what the interpretation, the art is compelling, dynamic and visually interesting.
Clearly, the work won.
Writer. Photographer. Producer.
Contributing writer to the Hammond Museum, Frank Matheis, is a music, visual arts and culture writer and photographer. His latest project was the book ‘Sweet Bitter Blues’ co-written with National Heritage Fellow Phil Wiggins (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). His Hammond Museum column ‘In Other Words’ features member artists in all disciplines. He is also a contributing writer to ArtsWestchester, Living Blues magazine (Center for Southern Culture Studies) and thecountryblues.com.