Born in London, where he lives and works, Bernard Cohen studied at the Slade School of Fine Art from 1951 to 1954. In 1988, he was appointed as Slade Professor and Director of the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London. Cohen's work came to prominence during the 1960s and has since been exhibited extensively. Ten of Cohen's paintings are in Tate's collection.
Public exhibitions have included a retrospective in 1972 at London's Hayward Gallery, which then toured to Newcastle and Leeds; Artist in Focus, Six Paintings from the Tate Gallery Collection in 1995 at London's Tate Gallery; Stroll on! Aspects of British Abstract Art in the Sixties in 2006 at Geneva's Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain; and Abstraction and the Human Figure at CAM's British Art Collection in 2010 at Lisbon's Fondação Calouste Gulbenkian. In 2018, Cohen's work was exhibited as a Spotlight exhibition at Tate Britain. In 2018 he was also featured in Post-Pop. Beyond the commonplace at the Gulbenkian and in Kaleidoscope at Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery.