Artists on Coping: Hallie Cohen

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

Hallie Cohen at the American Academy in Rome working on Mi Ricordo III,ink on yupo paper, 60” x 144”. Photo by Francis Levy.

Hallie Cohen is a New York-based visual artist and curator. She is a Professor of Art, and Director of the Hewitt Gallery of Art at Marymount Manhattan College. Her subjects are topographies of real or imagined places, which toggle between abstraction and unreliable narration. Cohen explores natural phenomena, using the instability of the water-based medium to investigate the dynamic between chance and control and between conscious and unconscious thought processes. She has curated over 30 exhibits which explore science, psychology, neurology, politics, and the environment. She has recently had a virtual artist talk about her work.

AS: How are you coping?

HC: Avoiding overdosing on the news. Maintaining a work schedule. Looking at this as an opportunity to start plants from seeds, make paint from flowers, and learn how to calibrate cleat tension on my bike pedals. With less options for the quick fix, I am immersing myself in process, as I cannot access product in the old familiar ways. Rather than getting things pre-packaged and done for me, I have to invent solutions in this crisis. I am prioritizing my family and friends. I continue to make work, teach, curate, but all in new context with many unknowns.

As recently as mid-January, I was in the Visiting Artists and Scholars program at the American Academy in Rome working in the Philip Guston Studio on one of my large watercolors, The Unknown Masterpiece (Hadrian & Antinous). I had Rome at my fingertips, using historical sites as inspirations, visiting Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli and the Castel Sant’ Angelo along the Tiber. Like many others, my universe quickly diminished, and my resources became limited. Now I am “traveling” from my desk on my computer and reducing the scale on which I am working.

The Unknown Masterpiece (Hadrian & Antinous), ink on yupo paper, 60” x 144”, 2020

AS: Has your routine changed?

HC: I have had the most profound change in routine, from an urban city setting to the countryside. From daily commutes scurrying underground in the subways, dashing from home to school, from school to art galleries, museums, and artists’ studios, back to my studio and out again to dinner or a movie (yes, the Film Forum on a regular basis), to rarely going out or walking or biking in solitude. As a professor of art and a gallery director I’m a social animal, a teaching artist, and a champion of other artists and their work. My external dealings with students, colleagues and staff has been condensed into the gridded screen images on Zoom.

DNA #47,ink on yupo paper, 43” x 15”, 2019; DNA #46, ink on yupo paper, 43” x 15”, 2020; DNA #44, ink on yupo paper, 43” x 15”, 2019

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

HC: My defense has often been to intellectualize or distance myself from trauma. Whether it was the loss of my mother at an early age, or larger issues such as the disparity of race and class in America. Is this a cosmic punishment on the order of the Flood, or a chance to make meaning in the midst of an unknowable future? Before, I was doing a series of paintings revolving around DNA. Ironically, in the earlier DNA series, I was using soap and alcohol mixed into the inks — the materials du jour to disinfect the virus.

Halo #1, watercolor and soap on paper, 10” x 14”, 2020

AS: What matters most right now?

HC: Sanity, maintaining a healthy balance between self-interest and helping others, engaging in initiatives to help feed the hungry by supporting the food banks, making sure my friends and family are OK, keeping a productive and positive connection to my students and my colleagues.

Halo #2, watercolor on paper, 10” x 14”, 2020

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

HC: I think of this quote quite often: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is not to be afraid.”― Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Hanging by a Thread, watercolor on paper, 10” x 14”, 2020

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: