Ordinary Things Become Extraordinary

Interview with Meryl Cohen, Fabric Fusion Artist

What is your background in art?
Basically, I am self-taught. For as long as I can remember, I have been involved with something creative. As a child, I made paper dolls and paper mosaics. As an adult, though I had no formal training, I was very fortunate to have wonderful mentors along the way in all the cities in which I lived. In Atlanta, I had Ouida Canaday, a well-known local artist, and Professor Joe Perrin, retired Art professor at Georgia State University and an accomplished painter himself. It was there that I took a course in silk painting, and that led me into new art directions. While living in Chicago, I learned new techniques at the Evanston Art Center; and in Columbus, Ohio, I had the privilege of working with Jon Wahling, a nationally known fiber artist, who encouraged me to work in innovative ways with paints and fabrics.

When did you decide to start selling your work and why?
I started selling it when people wanted to buy it! I have had wonderful patrons, plus individual and corporate buyers. In Denver, we artists organized ourselves as the Colorado Jewish Art League under the auspices of the Mizel Museum of Jewish History and Culture. We had a speaker who inspired me to become more professional. She became my mentor and helped me develop a portfolio, stationery and business cards. I still have an agent in Denver who sells my work in Colorado and Texas. You can see my work at the Crested Butte Ski Lodge in Colorado.

How would you describe your style?
I call my unique approach “fabric fusion.” I freely combine acrylic paint, black and white photography, and a wide range of colorful, sheer, hand-dyed, and textured fabrics on canvas, to create an entirely new perception of the everyday world. Inspired by the rich variety of the geology and landscape all over the world, I explore the inherent beauty and mystery of rocks, trees, and local flora.

Describe to us how painting on silk is different than other more common materials.
From the minute I took a silk workshop in Atlanta, I was hooked. You are working with dyes, not paint, and the flow and spread of the dye is so different. The outcome is very unpredictable. I like to dye with the Japanese method called shabori, tying and folding the fabric in a multitude of ways. I apply the dye with salt and alcohol and wait for the surprise. With silk you are really involved with the process, which is what I like.

The art here in your studio looks gorgeous. Do people tell you that looking at your art online does not do it justice?
Yes. My work is visually highly dimensional. You feel you want to reach out and touch it or even walk right into the picture. Due to the unique nature of my process, it is not fully captured on the web. On the other hand, my digital reproductions are fantastic.

What do you find so captivating about “ordinary” things such as tree trunks, rocks and trucks that allows you to infuse them with such detail and creativity in your art?All my paintings are still-lifes. I provide a micro look at this vast macro world. I am fascinated at the infinite variations of texture and color that I see in each individual creation.

To whom does your work appeal most?
Everybody, I hope. All I want is to make people feel good, I have no burning issue that I must express on canvas. I consider myself merely a conduit. I just love watching people’s eyes light up and the smile on their faces when they see my work. I give them the chance to experience Hashem’s world in a different visual way.

Do you have a favorite painting that you have created?
I could say the “Sacred Forest” or I could say the one I am working on at present, whatever that is. If by “favorite” you mean that I want to hold on to it, then the answer is no. I have no attachment to any piece. I simply enjoy creating it. I want my work to be enjoyed by all, that’s it.

Can you paint based on a client’s request?
I prefer not to do that. Since we are all created as individuals, we may all see things slightly differently. Therefore, I find it is very hard to obtain a clear agreement between client and artist about artistic representations.

 Do you paint religious motifs?
Well, let’s define “religious.” If you mean art focusing on rabbis and the Kotel, then yes. I’ve done a few of those and no doubt will do more in the future. But if you define “religious” in a broader sense, as I do, then all my work is religious. My artist statement sums it up: “When I observe the world around me, I cannot help but intuitively understand that the variations of nature reflect G-d’s ability to create an infinitely varied world, where no design is repeated exactly. The concept of an infinite G-d creating an infinite number of ways to see beauty in the world animates my art. In particular, the fusion of fabric and paint in my art allows me to see the world in patterns as well as in a textured and multi-dimensional way. My work is not flat but round.”

When you sit down to create a painting, do you envision the end product or does your paintbrush have a “mind of its own?”
Right now, I work mostly from my own photographs, so for me the creative process starts when I decide what to shoot and how to shoot it. Then I find the composition that I want, which may be only a small piece of the larger photo. I see an image in my mind and I select possible fabrics for it. But then it as you say: “it takes on a mind of its own.”

What do you love most about creating art?
The process. I love working with the materials, the fabric, paints, scissors and iron. I feel that I leave a part of me in my painting and, therefore, I connect with the ultimate owner of each piece I also like to be in the creative zone where one loses all track of time. I try to set aside studio time, a regular daily time to paint. However, sometimes I can be completely engrossed and be in my studio for eight hours or more.

Do you do exhibitions? What’s the best way for people to see your art?
I’m planning to exhibit at the Tel Aviv Opera House during the 2016-2017 season (the date is not yet finalized). In Israel I’ve exhibited at the Jerusalem Theater Gallery and the AACI, and I’ve also had several exhibitions in the States. Presently, my gallery and studio are located in my home in Beit Shemesh where potential customers are welcome. In my studio you will see old and new work, and you can also watch me work if you like. For appointments to view my art, please contact me directly.

077-228-5757 (home)   052-5959-006 (cell)      

Find me on Facebook: Atmosphere Art by Meryl Cohen

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