“The first time I struck my brush on the canvas. I knew right away I would be an abstract painter”. ~ Drew Cohen
It’s a hectic rainy day, as I sit in a Queen Street cafe. With umbrella in hand and a warm smile on his face, Drew Cohen walks calmly into the cafe. He’s unruffled, and soft-spoken. We chit chat quickly about life and share our somewhat similar challenges. Our conversation is easy going, very much like Drew. He shares his love for art and his desire to help children and he describes how his paintings and artist’s vision are a reflection of his positive approach on life.
Simple, yet spirited, “Some of Drew’s pieces tend to be oximoronic in nature, having a sharp contrast between the title and the movement of the paint on the canvas. He paints with a lot of energy and a quick pace, with heavy brush strokes and a mix of very vibrant work with a more stark black and white attraction”.
Wllnttz: How did you become an artist?
Cohen: When I was a kid, I didn’t think I had an artistic bone in my body. I was a jock and played hockey and soccer; a lot of sports. My sister was the artistic one. My parents, through no fault of their own didn’t encourage me to be creative.
C: It wasn’t until I entered the corporate world, when I started using Illustrator and Photoshop that my design side took over.
Cohen, credits his graphic design work as the monumental shift that encouraged him to try visual and sculptural art. Almost 7 years ago, he began his journey as a potter at the Jewish Community Centre on Bloor and Spadina.
” I love working with clay, I’m very tactile, and the feel of the clay made me feel very close to nature. I haven’t been doing it for years, and I miss it so much, however, this led me down the path to become a painter. When I first started painting I used oil, but I have been using acrylic. I love the vibrancy of oil. The richness in tones and the way the paint goes on the canvas”.
W: Explain how you came up with the concept of using an oxymoronic approach to naming your Artwork.
C: I’ve always had the notion of looking at the good in everything in life. Even in a bad situation, I always try to take the positive from it. That in of itself is an oxymoron. Taking the positive aspect from something that is totally negative, I believe you can always find something good in life.
C: I always try to encourage people to do the same with their lives and I take that to the canvas. I have a painting I sold, a splash and drip, very erratic (Jackson Pollock style) called “Peace”.It looks like the total opposite. It looks like chaos. Even in chaos you can find beauty and peace.
W: Your work is about your life and passions, you seem very vulnerable with your canvas. What would you tell a young artist to do for inspiration?
C: When I start out, I may not have a theme, but as soon as I come to the canvas it flows out.
W: How do you get from beginning to end to each piece?
C: I don’t have a vision in advance. I don’t use many different colours. I am a minimalist. Because I have a design background I already have an idea of what colours I want to use. I like using tones, many shades of the same colour.
W: You mentioned Jackson Pollock is he one of your favourite artists?
C: To be honest, I am not a big fan of his work, but having said that, I do like his wife’s work. In fact, I very much like Lee Krasner’s work.
I don’t know a lot about art history, but a couple of artists that I like are Franz Klein and Motherwell, Van Gogh, Reinhardt, Guston
(I like him and I don’t like him)
W: Tell me about your motivation behind wanting to give back to the children?
C: It’s important for me to give back. I have a real affinity for kids. It breaks my heart when I see a kid that is not doing well mentally or physically. I want to give back like Paul Newman gives back with his salad dressing.
W: Is there a painting that you have donated that stands out to you?
C: I donated a painting to the Roswell Cancer Institute, “Tranquility”. That was very personal to me because I donated it on behalf of my friend Gyda. An amazing, vibrant, outgoing, person who just lit up a room. Her laugh was contagious. It meant a lot to me to donate that in her name.
In her memory, it means a lot that it is hanging in a place where people will see it. People that are going through what she went through. In a place where she spent a lot of time fighting cancer. Another that comes to mind is “Tenderness”, in Baycrest Hospital, in memory of my mother, you will see it in the Palliative care ward.
“I see myself as the ‘Paul Newman’ of the art world.”
C: I have an idea for a web start-up.
This stems from when I was a kid and not thinking that I was artistic, but I want to encourage kids to think with a creative mind. I want to create that platform for them through the medium of art. I think every kid has creativity in them, whether they can paint, write poetry, or whatever it is. You can be creative in science and you can be creative in math. I want to instil in them to think creatively.
W: Do you think that society does that?
C: Not much, I don’t think they do near enough in the schools. I think if kids were taught creative thinking they could see an increase in their marks and other incredible things.
W: When you think of forgiveness vs. permission what comes to mind? (It’s an oxymoron,chuckle)
C: I don’t like to be told what to do, and that translates to my art. I don’t have to be given permission to paint and strike the canvas. I have carte blanche. That’s the freedom that I love about painting. I don’t need that permission from anybody. The only permission I need is from myself to go and do it.
W: Do you live in the past, present, or future?
C: Present. I always try to live in the present moment. I paint in the present. As for the future, I feel like I’m developing my style as an artist and I want to continue to see where it takes me.
To see and read more about Drew Cohen’s works visit his website http://drewcohen.com
Drew has kindly donated 2 watercolour pieces that will be featured on Free Art Friday Toronto – September 20, 2013. The pieces will be hidden tomorrow and the locations will be revealed with tips and hints on our next post.