Sandy Cohen: Looking Back In Order to Move Forward
Photo credit: @hmarknyc
First let me say we have known each other for a few years now and your body of work has gone in many new directions. I always appreciate when an artist shows diversity in their medium, which you have clearly done. What are you currently working on now?
I just finished a collection on feminine energy and another collection in collaboration with Sean Sullivan. I am currently deciding on where to take my next collection. I have so many ideas I have to just choose one. What is your favorite subject matter to paint and why? How do you connect to your subject matter? I love painting animals and women, and sometimes animalistic women. I enjoy painting adult themes cloaked in innocence. Such as cute woodland creatures or stuffed animals dealing with intense and complex emotions. I tell stories with my pieces, often in subtle ways, leaving bread crumbs for the viewer to follow.
Are there any mediums that intimidate you that you would like to experiment with? You strike me as a woman with no fear, but I would need to hear that answer from you.
No medium is safe! Even those considered outside of traditional fine arts. Film and dance, in which the medium is the body, are among my favorites. Music as well. Any way that allows me to show my form of self expression is welcome. As a child I made sculptures out of tin foil, sand and even soap. Anything I could get my hands on. My father once made the mistake of leaving me in his office with a few expensive hand carved wooden statues; which I decided to transform into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles using office supplies. Please speak of your painting that is a homage to the royal family for protecting Jewish children from being turned over to the Nazi's during WW2 as I am a child of a Holocaust survivor myself. Your painting brought me to tears and I had to share it with my Mother who came to the United States in 1949 along with her siblings that were in DP camps.
First off I'd like to express my sympathy for your family that suffered in WW2. As a Jew, it is a very painful, unfortunate part of our heritage. My grandma was actually scheduled to go to the ovens on a Saturday morning which would have been the holy Sabbath, but the British and American soldiers rescued them from that gruesome fate early Friday morning.
In regards to the painting, I was invited to dinner with Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco. I told him I was a Moroccan Jew and my father’s family is from Casablanca. He began to tell me the story of his grandfather King Mohammed V who was King of Morocco during WW2. During one of the most dangerous eras in history, he risked his life to protect his Jewish citizens. The Nazi leaders ordered the King to mark and surrender all the Jewish citizens. The Kings response was that if he is going to mark the Jewish citizens then he will have to mark all his citizens including his own children. He said even his own children will be wearing a yellow star of David. He wanted the world to know that if you are Moroccan, you are a valued citizen of the country despite your religious beliefs. He risked his safety and refused to hand over the Jewish citizens to Nazi Germany. Unfortunately the King of Bulgaria attempted to do the same thing to protect the Jewish citizens and was killed for it.
I grew up hearing that story from my father's family and when I heard it directly from the Prince I broke down crying. Here I was standing in a NYC penthouse with the man who's grandfather protected my ancestors from being exterminated. If it weren't for his grandfather I wouldn't have ever been on this earth. To have gotten the opportunity to thank him personally at that moment was indescribable. To call my grandmother and tell her about it is a moment I will always remember.
The following week, he invited me to his estate to deliver the painting. I was honored to say the least.
On a lighter note, you showed in Art Basel with fellow artist Sean Sullivan in which you collaborated on a new series of work that was shown at the Oliver Cole Gallery. At first glance, I had no idea what the photographs were meant to evoke within the viewer until I learned more of the facts behind the project. Can you kindly reiterate what this collaboration signified for you? Why were the models dressed in lingerie with bags over their faces with fierce looking animals painted on the bags? The collection with Sean Sullivan was in regards to women being overlooked as the real apex predators in the world. Women tend to be viewed as the weaker gender and still have to fight for certain equality changes. They are constantly being sexually harassed or bullied in the workplace and that's what always hits the media. We wanted to touch on the fact that women are generally stronger than men and given the opportunity they will do the job better than a man. They are dressed in lingerie because women are always sexualized and judged for their appearance. That's where men make their greatest mistake in assessing the opposite sex. This should spark the "Aha" moment where you realize you underestimated your opponent. Also that was just the first of that collection, we plan on using women of all shapes and sizes because all women are attractive and powerful.
What can you tell me that you have never told a journalist before regarding your artwork?
Art is such a powerful entity. As a teen I spent a few years in a very tough junior high school. There was a lot of racism and a lot of violence. Everyone was labeled and bullied based on the color of their skin. The teachers were too afraid to intervene and so there was uncontrolled mayhem. Back then, the school system resembled the prison system. I’m sure you remember the 90’s in NYC.
My work was one of the few things that was able to transcend all of that. The moment I began to draw I was no longer referred to by the color of my skin , I was just called “The Artiste”. Everyone just wanted to watch me draw. No one bothered me. I was suddenly safe from the violence. Angry faces always lit up in anticipation of what I had created next. It was the first time I experienced the true impact art can have.
Shortly after graduating high school, I fell ill with severe ME/CFS and POTS(postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). I was confined for years on end to my bed and to the four walls of my room or hospital rooms. The one thing I could find was my art. I drew angels to watch over me, and things I wanted to experience that I thought I may never have the chance to. I lived inside my art work. That was the world I escaped into. There was almost nothing else I could physically do. It helped keep me sane. Art is truly powerful and healing.
What is next for you Sandy?
Well there is one kinda ginormous thing I’m working on...My aunt Simha Stern is a very powerful woman and philanthropist internationally and has strong ties to the Jewish community. She was so touched and emotionally overwhelmed when she saw the piece I made for Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco that she said it belonged in Yad Vashem. For those who don’t know, Yad Vashem is Israel’s official Holocaust memorial located in Jerusalem. It would be the greatest honor to place it there and I’m focusing all my energies on that move right now.
Obviously an artist is always looking for new galleries and opportunities, but this one is extra special for me.
Where can our readers learn more about both you and your artwork? They can visit my website sandycohenart.com and my instagram @sandycohensart. My paintings are currently being exhibited at The Oliver Cole Gallery in Miami.