SomoS: Can you tell us about your background? How did you make the choice to become an artist, more specifically a painter?
Adam: When I was 12, we moved to a small community in Israel, and it was very boring, especially because there wasn’t a basketball court. I started going to an after school art class and found it very interesting. From there, I did some copies of van Gogh, Rembrandt and Michelangelo and fell in love with drawing and painting. Then, when I was looking to study painting, I discovered the Jerusalem Studio School run by Israel Hershberg. The moment I walked into the school and saw the student work I knew that I was in the right place and that this was what I wanted to do.
S: Can you tell us about the situation for young artists in Tel Aviv? Think of education, collectors, exhibitions, competition?
A: In Israel, there are a few large, contemporary-orientated art schools, and several private, atelier-style schools more focused on classical tradition. Most artists I met while living there have kept the direction of how they were trained. Lots of young artists also move to study/work abroad. There are a handful of collectors, and quite a large amount of galleries. Although there is a lot of awareness in Tel Aviv about art, I think it’s a struggle to survive as an artist anywhere.
S: Can you tell us about the process of your painting? I understand the paintings are partly based on digital collages of your photographs. How does your painting relate to the digital? Is there a conversation between the classic and modern tools?
A: I was trained through the observation of nature–model, still life, landscape and copying old masters. I kept going in that direction for a few years after school, but found that I needed different reference material. I started using printed photographs and mixing them with direct observation. After a while, that too felt wrong and not complete enough as a reference material. Then, I saw some exhibitions of artists working with collage references and saw that photo collage could be an interesting thing to use as a reference. I taught myself basic photoshop and played around, a copy/paste kind of thing. Now, I use that as a reference for my works.
S: You said to be fascinated by the tension between a painting’s surface and its illusory depth. Could you articulate this a bit further?
A: I always found it fascinating that a painting has 2 forms of communication: 1–the image and 2–the surface. The image for me was always a less imposing factor–I didn’t care if it was a landscape or a twisted expressive figure. I could love each painting just the same.
Looking at old master work, like Velazquez, you see he fuses the image–some nobleman or princess–with the most sensuous, mysterious, masterly handling of oil paint on canvas, giving the viewer endless hours of joy and interest just by staring at the painting. Then, after a while, I look at the image–nobleman or princess–and think ‘hmm..’ and then I return to looking at the painted surface for hours. This is what attracted me to abstract painters like de Stael, de Kooning, Gorky; it was just looking at the painted surface with no image to hold on to. In more contemporary works such as Adrian Ghenie or Justin Mortimer, I found a fusion of the the two worlds that really struck me as very close to my vision.
S: How about what is actually depicted in your paintings? It seems many paintings from earlier days have in common the depiction of an exhausted moment, with seemingly passed-out protagonists and environments in disarray i.e. a hangover, an after party scene, something even more absurdist. Are your newer paintings, the ones you are making at SomoS, in any way different from your previous ones?
A: The images I formed in the earlier work are a mixture of a very messy surrounding, and a figure or two. The poses vary, because I usually have a specific pose in mind, and, yes, a lot of times, it is a figure upside down, or on the floor. This has to do with trying not to make the regular frontal pose, but to try and find something surprising to do with the figure. The emotional aspect of the poses is an after-thought.
I am interested in the figure. Usually, there is a ‘main’ figure and how to place it in a surrounding–this can be a landscape, cityscape or interior–and its connection to some other element in the image–another figure, a colour, a shape. The newer paintings made in Berlin are just a continuation of those thoughts, with the added thought of trying a different technical approach.
Many thanks to Adam Cohn for sharing his thoughts for this interview.
Adam Cohn’s solo exhibition Surface and Depth will open at SomoS Art House on Tuesday, September 26 from 6-9pm.
About Adam Cohn
Born 1983 in Israel, Adam Cohn lives and works in Tel Aviv. He received his art education from the Jerusalem Studio School, Jerusalem, Israel (2004-2008), and the Arts Students League, New York, USA (2010-2011) studying sculpture with Jonathan Shan. Between 2007-2012, he has taught drawing at various establishments; and since 2012 teaches at Hatahana School for Painting and Drawing, Avni Institute.
Adam is a visual artist/educator working in painting and sculpture. His paintings offer intriguing reinterpretations of classical painting tropes, seen through the lens of a generation used to viewing the world through digital means. Still lifes, portraits, rustic landscapes, and studio views are among his recent work.