Student Profile: Alex Cohen

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January 9th, 2013
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Alex Cohen. Image courtesy of the artist.

I sat down this week with SAIC painter-ceramicist, Alex Cohen and talked about the complicated nature of staying true to yourself. Alex has exhibited in venues such as Believe Inn, Co-prosperity Sphere, Antenna Gallery, Pop-Up Art Loop, and Uprise Skateshop. You can see his work in person in spring of 2013 in LA, as Alex has been curated in a show by Chris Johansson at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles.

Where did you grow up and how were you first interested in art?

Uptown, Chicago. When I was younger I would make art with my mom. She makes paintings but she’s not an artist, she’s a waitress. I feel like I’ve been creative my whole life. I started making art again when I dropped out of high school and had nothing to do. So I started painting. Actually my first painting was sophomore year when I got suspended and I painted my wall. The apartment I grew up in is super colorful—my mom made these mosaics that cover the walls — they’re of sharks and whales, palm trees, flamingos, underwater scenes with fish.

“beeerics,” 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Do you think that art you grew up around influenced your idea that art was supposed to be fun and make you feel good?

That’s a good question — yeah, yeah. I still feel that way.

What about your newer paintings like “Juvie,” and “Segregated School House?”

Well, I still make fun paintings, but if I’m given the chance to speak I should still say something a little bit more or else it’s selfish.

We’re looking at a couple different series of paintings here-some portraits of Hip-Hop stars and some paintings that have social critique and other abstract ones. Are all these paintings personal?

Yeah. Defiantly. Those abstract ones are just from me doodling in my history class. But then, when those started to be exhibited, it felt like they were taking away from my personal experience growing up. So, I felt like I had to incorporate the imagery into my paintings. I felt like I was leaving something out, ignoring my past.

“Juvy.” Courtesy of the artist.

By being here (SAIC) and exhibiting work?

Yeah.I felt like it was being selfish.

Do you think the portraits and the newer paintings are an attempt to think about your past more?

Defiantly.

How do the portraits do that?

The portraits-those are just the people I listen to. Those are like my fathers.

Do you think it’s more important to make those paintings because you’re here and you don’t see paintings like that and you need to see paintings like that here at SAIC?

I think it’s me being true to myself and true to my interests. The abstract stuff is what you would call skate art or graffiti,and then the newer paintings I did because lately I’ve been thinking about people and how we all interact together.

The new paintings are thoughts about freedom and how we’re not free. Capitalism — bullshit. Also, how genuinely racist people are still, even though you may not be hateful everyone’s racist. It’s just a drag. And the fact that gay people can’t get married, it’s a drag. It’s all a drag.

“Incarceration of M.L.K.” Courtesy of the artist.

What upsets you?

Rich people, ignorance, people who are not empathetic, greed. Yeah those things. People who are selfish, who only get one thing and don’t see the whole picture. Ego. People who don’t recycle. People who don’t get up for old people on the buses and for pregnant women. That stuff just irks the hell out of me.

What do you love?

I love being insane. I love not having control over myself or my thoughts. Ironically I love ignorance — I love ignorant rap. It justifies some of my actions. It helps rationalize my behavior sometimes. Obviously I love life, duh.

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