CLARA COHAN

It was during my growing up time that I was taught the foundations of drawing and painting.  My mother, who is an artist, spent many afternoons teaching me about the anatomy of light, form, color theories, and oil painting.

1968 – 1974   There was the search for the Self.  And there was art class.  The perfect place to explore feelings and to begin to express what I felt about the world and my place in it. I was most influenced by the Surrealists; Tanguy, Dali, Magrette, and M.C. Escher.  Paintings during this time frame came directly from the inner landscapes and intellectual wandering of my mind. With my early training, I found I could easily paint what I saw with my mind’s eye and create worlds that were very different from “reality”.  In 1972, I had an opportunity to broaden my experiences with summer classes at the Chautauqua Art Institute, Chautauqua, NY.  This experience put me into a studio setting where I felt very much at home.

1974 -1976After spending two-and-a-half years at college pursuing a teaching degree in art and psychology, I left the academic world.  This was a major turning point, deciding not to become a teacher, but to develop and gain experience in being a professional artist.  In 1976, I spent part of a summer in Germany, Austria, and Amsterdam, exploring the arts of this region.

1977 – 1985The most defining time period for me. Knowing that I wanted to be a full-time artist, and knowing income would be fairly non-existent, I chose to develop a life-style to support my goals and financial challenges. A self-sufficient living situation is what I needed to create.  First, buy land and then build a small home.

I purchased five acres of wooded land in upstate New York and built a small cabin.   I lived here for eight years, growing my own food, fishing and foraging wild greens, heating and cooking on a wood stove, choosing to not to hook up to the electric company.   With a few hours dedicated to daily chores, the rest of my day was filled with drawing and painting.   I co-founded the Battenkill Art League which provided stimulation from a community of artists. A mix of commercial art work and art festivals provided enough income.

Also during this time frame, I would make many sojourns to the desert southwest,  Inspired by the color and forms of the landscape, and the spiritual aspect of the wide open spaces, I created my “Mandala Sandpainting” series.  This was another expressive form that showed me vividly that symbols are the language of the unconscious, the inner self, and speak in universal ways.

It was during the later part of the cabin years that I began visiting New York City.   I was drawn in by the intensity of what the city had to offer me personally and as an artist. Thus began one and two month long stays for the next 16 years in order to study at the Art Students League, drawing daily from the works of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, contacting galleries and spending hours drawing from the surrounding street scenes.

1986Feeling the need to expand my marketing experiences, I moved from my cabin in the woods, to Albany, NY.  I opened a studio/gallery and exhibited in local galleries and cafes.


1986 – 2000 I developed a workshop utilizing the Mandala, bringing people into closer communication and relationship with their inner selves.  I held workshops in Albany and scheduled a many city-tour that eventually led me to Sedona, Arizona.  For the next 14 years, I would become involved in the arts community of Sedona, Cottonwood, Jerome and Scottsdale, AZ.

During the desert years, I created several distinct styles of paintings, including the airbrushed “Mythic Reality” series and the New York oil paintings of the “Humanity” series.   Also, I created Cosmic Turtle Creations, a home-based industry, sandblasting contemporary petroglyphs onto flagstone, which developed into a thriving nation-wide business.

In 1979, I had my first exhibit in NYC, showcasing 26 paintings from the “Humanity” series.

It was the ten-years of very hands-on building of our home that brought me to the realization of my abilities as a sculptor.  In the last year-and-a-half of my time in Arizona, I apprenticed with Daniel Newman, a stone sculptor.

2001 -2007Having had a full experience of living in the southwest, Sharon and I decided it was time to experience living by the Atlantic Ocean.  In 2001, we sold our desert home and purchased a 1910 Cape in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  For me, Portland, Maine, showed great promise as a new territory to enter into.  I found the galleries receptive to my stone and wood sculptures.  Seeing a need for more exposure for sculptors, I co-founded MAINE SCULPTORS, setting up shows throughout the state.  I also established the Changing Tides Gallery, an exhibit space for emerging artists.

2005 was a changing year for me.  Years of heavy physical labor of constructing my own homes and working years in stone, began effecting my neck, back and arms. Putting all taxing work aside, I was able to stop the deterioration and manage the pain.  Sorting out what I could and could not do, gave me a new start and direction.  Teaching part-time, sculpting only wood, and being employed as the visiting artist/sculptor in the local Middle School, (please see the “Courtyard Project“), allows me to continue on.

A new series of sculptures,”Contemplating Our Place in the Universe” became my major focus. Throughout my career, my deepest passion has been the symbolic language of the unconscious and the transforming effect it has on individuals and in the development of a culture. I have studied the archetypal, primal and symbolic imagery of ancient and modern earth-based cultures and religions. Through travel, I have directly experienced the symbolic nature of such cultures as the Rapa Nui of Easter Island, native South Pacific peoples, the earth-based cultures of Ireland, Mexico, and the Native American, particularly the Hopi Indians of Northern Arizona.

Visual symbols that repeatedly arise include, the nest and egg, lightening bolts, a single eye, patterns of stars, earth, moon, raven, elephant, whale, human and “cosmic” figures. From re-claimed wood, these and other symbols are carved to represent stories. The re-occurring theme is about connection; to our own self, with others, with the environment, and ultimately, with the infinite cosmos.

2008– 2015 I took a position of security officer at the Portland Museum of Art. This has given me a great vantage point to view not only the paintings and sculptures of the museum, but to experience the purpose and workings of a museum. I am still creating sculptures for the “Contemplating Our Place in the Universe” series.

www.claracohan.com