Hallelujah — Cohen on display

Seeing a new side of venerable Canadian icon

He’s a musician poet novelist lady’s man Buddhist monk and as of last week winner of a high-profile lawsuit. Leonard Cohen is famous for many things. Until recently though his artwork was not one of them.

While he has been drawing and painting his whole life the 77-year-old Cohen has only produced prints for sale in the past three years.

Many are included in Cohen’s latest poetry collection Book of Longing ; others he drew as far back as the ’60s though few prints are dated. There are sensual nude women green-eyed self-portraits birds guitars Cohen’s thick black glasses. Some are doodles on white foolscap some on napkins. Some are sad some funny some sexy. Many have comments on them or short poems.

Around 20 of these pieces will be exhibited and available for sale at Axis Gallery in Art Central opening April 26th. Axis director Rob Mabee says there will also be a night of “Leonard”-inspired poetry at the gallery on May 7th featuring Calgary’s poet laureate Kris Demeanor.

“People have been generally very surprised at how good they are because he’s not really known for this” says Linda Lando of Vancouver’s Granville Fine Art who is co-curating the Calgary show (Lando first exhibited Cohen’s art at her solo gallery in Vancouver in 2008 before hosting a subsquent show at Granville in 2010). “They’ve come in thinking ‘these [won’t be] really any good these will just be works that he’s done because he’s Leonard Cohen.’ And then they come in and they think ‘Oh my God the work is really worthy.’”

But considering he already has secured one of pop culture’s greatest cults of personality can one gain furthur insight into the man through his visual art? According to Lando the works really are an extension of themematic trails well-travelled by Cohen in his poetry and music.

“Well he loves women” laughs Lando. “I think that all his characteristics come through even more. There’s his struggle with his inner voice and with the world. And the reverence for the other poets that he’s worked with in his lifetime comes through as well. His spirit. These works are really very personal.”

Lando says the audiences have included everyone from young teenagers up but more than anything it’s the baby boomers who are showing up. “Ladies in their 50s and 60s — whew . And husbands buying pieces for them” she says. “And lots of people who saw him read poetry in a small room at UBC in the ’60s — I must have had everybody who was ever in that room.”

“I have swooning women. Un-believe-able. With Leonard stories. In tears” says Lando. “I have had people in here who have gone to 80 of his concerts. You wouldn’t believe it. It dropped my mouth open how people are so in love with this man. They’re real serious fans.”

Of these one of Lando’s favourites was a Vancouver woman who made a version of the “Famous Blue Raincoat.” “She had a blue trenchcoat and she embroidered the whole coat with [prints from this collection] and quotes from his songs. It was an unbelievable jacket” says Lando.

“And when the concert was here in Vancouver they actually let her into the back of the stage to see Leonard and he signed it. She came in here and showed us the coat and she modeled it for us. And she was on top of the world.”