Art professor Marcia R. Cohen takes us on a tour of her 1950’s bohemian bungalow and studio in Lindridge-Martin Manor, near the former Varsity Jr., where beloved rabbits and colorful finches complement her full range of creativity. Cohen, who was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship in 2011, said, “I’ve combined travel with art, like my study of the topography of Iceland. There the landscape is kinetic and percolating, which I interpreted by wrapping the painted surface around the dimensional frame.” When not “short sleeping” a mere 5 hours a night, Cohen is occupied with a variety of media: Limoges enamel painting, ceramic vessels and wood, along with her painting and drawing. “Typically, I work on a series for years. Ideas stack up and I return to my ‘brain trust,’ expanding into elaborate ideas.”
Jaffe: As a child you showed an artistic bent?
Cohen: Growing up in Detroit, I was very interested in drawing and painting and followed that interest into my college career. I studied painting at Wayne State University, then the University of New Mexico for graduate work in drawing and painting with a minor in photography, under Beaumont Newhall, an important art historian of photography. My summer European study was transformative and set me on a path of having travel as an integral part of my art making experience.
Jaffe: You taught for decades. How would you evaluate talent versus training and perspective from today’s students?
Cohen: I taught at the Atlanta College of Art for 30 years and at SCAD Atlanta for 14 years. Motivation and talent are as important as training. This is an exciting time to study as an artist or designer. There are more opportunities for creative occupations than ever before. There is an artist and designer behind everything! I taught color theory and design in the freshman program at SCAD. My students were from all over the world and in every creative discipline imaginable. I was fortunate to be at the entry point of their educational journey. Students are nimble and can move fluidly between painting and film, design and photography, all areas of electronic media and fashion. This is the best time to study in the creative fields. One is no longer in a niche—the world is at your fingertips.
Jaffe: How would you describe your own body of work?
Cohen: My work is driven by ideas. More often, my ideas are influenced by a passion for the study of color in the natural realm. I work across many disciplines, different methodologies and technical approaches. I do not have one signature style or way of working since color is the ultimate interdisciplinary topic, and I enjoy exploring and experimenting. My academic pursuits in the classroom and my studio practice were inseparable. I was awarded an artist residency in Iceland where I spent two winters photographing the landscape and the aurora borealis. I returned to my studio in Atlanta and have worked for several years from this amazing experience. Recently I began studying vitreous enamel using a kiln and glass pigments to extend my study of color and fire.
Jaffe: Summarize your retirement.
Cohen: I am living the life I had hoped for. I am in my studio full time. I have so much work in process that I will be evolving for years. I’m an avid researcher and seem to have at least 25 books open at once. I work on many different projects at one time and my sketchbooks keep the flow of ideas constant. Typically, I work in series often for years. I also enjoyed making ceramics and jewelry when I feel like taking a “break.” I do not require a lot of sleep so I can work late into the evening as well as at the crack of dawn. But as a colorist, working with daylight is best.
Jaffe: Share your interest in Judaica.
Cohen: My entrance room houses my Judaica collection: a micrograph of a Lubavitch rabbi, Tanya text, antique menorah, hamsas, amulets, and Havdalah candles. Interestingly, over the years, the candles retained their woven shape, but have faded to pale ochre. Then there is my set Shabbat table where I created the ceramic Shabbat plates in the 1980s. Speaking of Jewish-related themes, I did the scenic painting for the Emory Theater production of a Yiddish play, “Labzik: Tales of a Clever Pup,” while working with the puppet designer. I painted the monochromatic backdrops, including the walls, rooms, and street scenes of this puppet theater. Emory Professor Miriam Udel translated the original story, based on the 1935 book by Chaver Paver. Jake Krakovsky adapted and directed the play.
Jaffe: Which works of others do you admire?
Cohen: Most of my available wall space is taken up by my library, as I love books. I have prints by Josef Albers, Pat Steir, and John Cage.
Jaffe: You have a penchant for black and white.
Cohen: The black-and-white Op Art bench out front, I designed for ING. My bunnies in the backyard are black and white, as is my clothing. I even designed my own eyewear in 1983 to match and manufacture in Europe. So, yes, to that as a lifestyle.
Jaffe: What’s with your coterie of fauna?
Cohen: The bunnies out back are blue-eyed Netherland Dwarf rabbits. Some are in hutches. Others run freely. The 16 families of Gouldian finches here have yellow mutation markings and live in a series of cages off the kitchen. Also known as “rainbow” finches, they are very delicate and chirp or sing. An original horizontal trumpet-blowing cherub by folk artist Howard Finster presides over them.
Jaffe: The card on your Shabbat table reads …
Cohen: “One loyal friend is worth 10,000 relatives.” A quote from Euripides
- Chai Style
- Chai Style Art
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Marcia Cohen
- SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design)
- Lindridge-Martin Manor
- Varsity Jr.
- bohemian bungalow
- Fulbright-Hays Fellowship
- Wayne State University
- University of New Mexico
- Atlanta College of Art
- studio practice
- educational journey
- electronic media
- Lubavitch rabbi
- Tanya text
- antique menorah
- Havdalah candles
- Emory Theater
- Yiddish play
- “Labzik: Tales of a Clever Pup
- puppet designer
- Emory Professor Miriam Udel
- Chaver Paver
- Jake Krakovsky
- Josef Albers
- Pat Steir
- John Cage
- Howard Finster
- Howard Mendel Photography
- Rabbi Shneur Zalman