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Reintegration & Recovery >> First Person
Marty Cohen's Story
Cohen was born in Flushing, New York on December 3, 1959. During his early schooling teachers recognized that Martin had a special talent for drawing and painting. The elementary school teachers encouraged Martin to copy paintings of great masters throughout the history of art. By the time he reached Junior High School, he was enrolled in figure drawing classes at Post College. At Roslyn High School, Martin took classes with Viggo Holm Madsen, who became a very important influence on Martin's growth as an artist. Viggo, as an art teacher stressed experimentation with art materials as well as the utilization of different techniques and artistic styles. Viggo became a life long friend and inspiration.
As an undergraduate at the State University of New York at Purchase, Martin was extremely inspired by the lectures of Art Critic Irving Sandler, whose first hand accounts of the Abstract Expressionists were both revealing and inspiring. Sandler's lectures on Willem DeKooning gestural paintings The Women Series led Martin to experiment with figurative abstraction. This style painting became the subject for Martin's final Thesis Paper and Exhibition completing his requirements for the Bachelors of Fine Art Degree.
After leaving SUNY at Purchase in 1979, Martin continued to explore drawing and painting with a similar emphasis on figurative abstraction. To keep himself and his artistic interest fresh, he enrolled in the Studio School of New York, on 8 Street, in Manhattan. At the Studio School, Martin began to expand his painting and drawing style by directly using figures. After two years at the Studio School Martin decided to apply for his Master's Fine Arts degree at a variety of colleges of his choice. By now Martin had gained artistic experience with some of the finest artists living in New York. He knew he wanted to paint and draw full time.
Upon entering graduate school, Martin visited Carnegie Mellon Institute and was introduced to a well known contemporary Artist named Sam Gilliam. Sam Gilliam at that time was the head of the Graduate School Program and was a full time Visiting Artist (Painter). Right from the start, Sam and Marty developed not only a great student teacher relationship but also close friendship. Marty's first year of graduate school, in the fall of 1985, was a very intense year in that it was a transitional time period in his artistic style and development.
After years of focusing on figurative abstract imagery, he began to be come disenchanted with the use of representational references and decided to explore even more abstract styles. With the direction and guidance of Sam Gilliam, his critiques, his interaction, and long visits helped introduce Martin to new and different abstract painting techniques. With the study of relevant abstract artists viewed in art history books, galleries and museum visits, Sam Gilliam further emphasized the exploration of abstraction and helped Martin establish his own approaches toward a new found creative freedom. By the end of the second semester Marty had transformed into an Abstract Artist.
During this time Marty began to experiment with oil and enamel painting by pouring and dripping and creating accidents. The enamel which was a great mixture with thick oil paint. He also began to draw with the paint. All of this became different ways to layer the paint. The drawing actually occurred by squeezing the tubes directly on the canvas. Another technique was using masking tape to create hard edge areas. While experimenting with these techniques, Marty finished a diversified series of paintings that were to become the subject of his final thesis and graduate art exhibition.
In 1987 after completing Graduate School, Martin returned to New York. He decided that it would be difficult to impossible for him to pursue his painting living in his parent's house on Long Island. His large scale works were taking up a large amount of storage and he did not have the adequate studio space to continue working at such a big scale. He obtained an apartment in Bay Ridge Brooklyn through a family friend, where he had both adequate living and fairly large working space.
While living and working in Brooklyn, Marty continued his painting and drawing using previous paint techniques. He also began to experiment with mixed media and collage. Using collage gave him one way to achieve texture and build up his painting surface. Marty began to experiment with the use of photo imagery, applying photos side by side with abstract elements. Some of the use of real photos and other real world elements in to his art may have been spurred on by Martin's difficulties with his mental health. As with many young artists, Martin experimented with drugs and alcohol. This had been an on going problem in high school and early college.
During this time period Martin was hospitalized due to a manic episode leading to a nervous breakdown. This was the beginning of Martin's battle with mental illness. Despite Martin's health problems, he continued to pursue his art career. Marty worked as a freelancer for variety of art related businesses. He developed skills as a framer working for a Frameshop Businessowner. He worked as a Fine Art Installer for a variety of Art Galleries and Fine Art Museums. He also continued to spend as much time working on his own artwork.
A year later, 1988, Martin exhibited a group of drawings and paintings in an East Village gallery called Ten BC. It was Martin's first Group Exhibition in Manhattan. It was successful, and many of his artworks were sold. In 1990, Martin followed up with two more exhibitions. On of the exhibitions was a One Person show that consisted of twelve paintings. Viggo Madsen was helpful in arranging the time and location of the show. Martin was encouraged by the sales of some of his works and the exposure his art received. However, he was still struggling to maintain a source of steady income and continued to keep his mental health in check by taking prescribed medication that his doctors had recommended.
Throughout the rest of the 1990's Martin began to make some small inroads reestablishing contact with the art world showing his work in group exhibitions. Most recently, Martin had eight piece so far selected to be shown at the Blue Heron Art Center, located on Twenty Third Street in Manhattan. While Martin continues to struggle as a fully independent artist, he continues his Painting and Drawing which will always be Martin's outlet to take steps towards a brighter future.