Artists on Coping: Nancy Cohen

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

Nancy Cohen in her studio, photo courtesy of the artist

Nancy Cohen’s work examines resiliency in relation to the environment and the human body. Recent exhibitions include Force: Observations from the Interior, a solo show at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts in NYC, and group exhibitions at Accola Griefen and BioBat Art Space in Brooklyn, Dorsky Gallery in Long Island City, Heller Gallery in Manhattan and The Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ. Her current work has been featured in the blogs Artists and Climate Change, Art Spiel, Less than Half and Delicious Line, in the anthology the Body in Language edited by Edwin Torres and in ArtTable’s Artist Perspective Podcast.

Fugitive (wall sculpture in process), 2020, Glass, metal, sand and aqua resin,
12 x 10 x 6 inches, photo courtesy of the artist

AS: How are you coping?

NC: I am learning to mediate how much news I take in and at what times of day in order to function. I am fortunate to be able to continue going to my studio and I have switched from listening to NPR to classical music and jazz. I don’t turn on the radio until 5pm and I don’t look at the newspaper until the evening. It is not that I have tuned the world out in the studio, but I am better able to let go of the endless feedback loop of anxiety. I still feel sad and worried but less overcome by it.

I am in lots of communication with friends and family. I am sending long emails that feel almost like letter writing used to be and I am talking on the phone which I haven’t done very much in years.

Network (wall sculpture in process), 2020, Glass, metal, wire, handmade paper and aqua resin, 15 x 8 x 4 inches, Photo courtesy of the artist

AS: Has your routine changed?

NC: My routine has changed a lot. Besides time in the studio and teaching, I used to spend part of each week seeing friends and seeing art. I used to teach in person. I used to spend a day or two each week with my elderly parents and help them in a hands-on way.

Now I am in the studio or home. I’m eating more dinners with my husband and daughter (that part is good). The switch to on-line teaching has been a challenge and I am thankful to friends going through it and who have also helped me figure it out. I am happy to have ways to connect to my students. Making and thinking about art now is, at the least, a distraction for them and at best, helpful, and that makes me feel useful.

Exit 13 (wall drawing in process), 2020, Paper pulp and handmade paper, 98 x 74 inches, photo courtesy of the artist

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

NC: I feel sad and anxious. I’m worried about my parents who I am seeing very little so as not to risk getting them sick but who I know need me. The ongoing choice with no potentially good outcomes is painful. I have many family members working in hospitals and health care facilities. I am worried about them. I have friends and neighbors who have no jobs or income right now and I am worried for them.

Fleeting (wall sculpture in process), 2020, Glass, metal and wire, 12 x 10 x 4 inches, Photo courtesy of the artist

AS: What matters most right now?

NC: Personally, it is staying connected to people I care about, helping when I can and trying to stay calm. Working in the studio helps me be grounded and in the moment. I am grateful to have that.

Yellow Rain, 2020, Paper pulp and handmade paper, 60 x 42 inches, photo courtesy of Christopher Dinerman

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

NC: It is hard for me to picture when and how this will all be over. I remember the fear and sadness around illness and death during the AIDS crisis and how that stayed until there were medications that people could live with. Then a new kind of normal settled in. I also remember the fear (and the smell) that permeated the city after 9/11 and how that changed life but we got used to those changes over time.

I can’t picture what is going to happen around here. Everything seems like a pair of bad choices and so many inequities have become worse. I don’t think our lives as artists in NY will anything close to what they were before. Maybe there will be a way to make them better but many of us will be struggling financially and people will leave the city if they don’t feel safe.

I feel more concerned about the generation of my kids and my students who are moving into independent lives at a time when the economy is a disaster and they have to be afraid of contact with other people. That is sad and scary.

Spiritu Santo (wall drawing in process), 2020, Paper pulp and handmade paper, 80 x 72 inches, Photo courtesy of the artist

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: