Earlier this year, Claire B. Cohen published a book of her 30-plus years as an artist. She made it for family and friends, as a record of her artistic legacy.
“Art is a powerful and a creative force of self-expression. To create art is to develop an ability to communicate visually what cannot be expressed in words.
“By creating the process of art, we change the way we see the world,” Claire B. Cohen told the Independent. “In understanding ourselves, we find areas where we feel limited. In understanding ourselves, we stand up for ourselves and can present ourselves authentically to others. An artist’s creation is unique and original to their work.”
Earlier this year, Cohen published a slim volume, mainly with images that burst from the pages, outlining her 30-plus years creating art. We glimpse the range of her work – landscapes, portraits, semi-abstracts, flowers, multimedia collages and a compartmental series, in which colourful abstract canvases were “connected sequentially in a zigzag for using piano hinges.” Flow and fun describe this series, her portraits – both colour and black and white – capture the personalities of her subjects, her landscapes and collages are bold and full of movement but also balance. The book touches on her work as an art therapist.
Originally from Israel, Cohen came to Canada in 1964. She studied fine arts at York University in Toronto and the University of Ottawa, and later earned her master’s in art therapy and counseling from U of O in 1987. She had many solo exhibits and group shows in Ottawa, and elsewhere, over the years. The book takes readers to 2006, with an exhibit list to 2009. She moved to Vancouver in 2012.
“I continued to paint after moving to Ottawa, but my move to Vancouver changed my focus, since joining my family had taken much of my time, being richly involved with newborn grandchildren,” said Cohen. “However, I still continued painting and showing new work in Vancouver galleries, as well as donating paintings to different organizations in Vancouver, such as hospitals, Louis Brier [Home and Hospital], friends, and creating more collages and multimedia-based work. I participated in group art shows and sold some to the public.”
Cohen said her reason for producing the book “was to create a place to keep all of my art as a legacy to leave to my family in remembrance of my story. COVID times were affecting my spirit, my mood was down and … the idea came about to focus on creating the book for my family and friends.”
During the pandemic, Cohen said she started to lose her connection to creativity.
“Friends cut off from each other, as much as children and family,” she said. “I slowly lost my energy and interest, as well as the need I once had to be close to my easel. The paints, the brushes, the colours all lost their meaning and the need I had to paint slowly deteriorated.”
She began to look back at her past, which, she said, “led me to wake up from my dormancy and questions such as ‘what is my meaning of life?’ I discovered my paintings in storage and wanted to create a book.
“I reflected further on my body of work and questioned: why did I dedicate my years to painting? Was there any purpose to it? The answer eventually arrived – yes. There are many purposes to be alive, and work as an artist, investing my life in art. In my case, most of it was to leave a memory to my next generation.”
Cohen’s most recent exhibit and sale was at Britannia Community Centre in 2021. Art can be cathartic, whether one is making it or experiencing it.
“The process of creating art has a great intensity and full force of emotions that lead to a freedom and release when the piece is complete,” she explained. “Looking at these pieces that I created many years ago leads to a sense of nostalgia and a softening of that intensity. These pieces have followed me through many moves and lives, and have a story of their own that has evolved with the emotions that once created them. The language of art cannot be explained in words, the language of these emotions is form, line, colour and brush strokes.”
This language can help heal, as Cohen well knows from her art therapy practice.
“The more we know about ourselves, the more we learn to grow and develop our abilities to stand our ground,” she said.
Describing art as “a powerful and unique way to explore our creative forces,” she explained that people who participate in art therapy use the “materials to express the self and communicate visually,” composing stories. In a group setting, they “collaborate and share with others … connect and integrate parts of his/her inner self, gain confidence and reduce stress in a supportive environment, with the aid of the instructor.”
It was both a dream and a need for Cohen to do art therapy and counseling.
“I realized that art is not just for selling and decorating homes, rather it was a way to find myself, to grow and see who I am, and to help others with their healing.”
To see Cohen’s body of work, go to clairebcohen.wixsite.com/portfolio/home.