When you enter the gallery of artist Iris Eshet Cohen at the Jaffa port, your eyes are overwhelmed by Blue, Red, Yellow and Green. Colors and more colors. Huge paintings on canvas and ceramic pieces.
The colors seem to explode at first in a whirlpool, and a moment later comes the calm. with harmony and tranquility enveloping the observer, as if on a ship at sea with a cocktail in hand and a smile, and the sun rays falling on your face.
Eshet Cohen thinks in colors, dreams in colors as she sleeps, relaxes with colors, gets angry in colors. In her studio in Tel Aviv she says: "There are whole theories about how every color we wear affects us, about food colors. Every color wakes something in us."
But things changed at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. "Suddenly I felt that the colors were gone from life," she says, moving between her new pieces. "In the beginning, we were in a shock, we were closed in our houses and we didn't know where it was going with all the fear coming from the news on TV.
It immediately manifests in the paintings. I started with a series that is just white, full of twists. The color white speaks. The color seems to come out precisely because there are no colors. White sort of starts the world anew, like there was nothing before."
Eshet Cohen fell more in love with what she was doing. "Because no matter what the situation is and how the world will turn, creating is always possible. What interests me is what comes out of my gut. Artists must work in every situation. No matter where you put us, we will always reinvent ourselves, and you can always create from everything. And the COVID-19 period is a time when one can really understand who has an artistic inclination."
As the days of the closure passed, the artistic inclination grew and so did the longing for the open spaces reflected in her works. Thus, a new series was born. "I took maps of various parts of the world to draw on because the whole world came together into one at that time, and I painted my longing for all the countries I draw and exhibit in: New York, Greece, Paris, etc.… The phrase: "We are all one human tissue" has become more meaningful than ever!
Little by little the colors started to come back, a little blue here and a little red there. "There is no choice," she smiles. 'We all got used to the new situation, and I realized the colors would have to come back. Each of us has less good periods, traumas that one carries with him. During one of the hard times inflicting me, the colors brought me back to life. One day I went down into the garden and suddenly saw the flower blossoms, and I said to myself, "Wow, there's color in life." It helps more than any psychologist and any sedatives. You don't have to be an artist or create, just look at the colors, they seep in."
Something in these colors immediately expands the heart, reflecting the personality of Eshet Cohen. Maybe it's natural for someone who grew up in a family of artists.
Her father is the photographer Mula Eshet, one of the founders of fashion photography in Israel, in front of whose camera stood the most beautiful woman in Israel in the sixties, whom he captured in powerful photographs, appearing on the front pages of local magazines. Her mother is the artist Dalia Eshet, and her son Niv also found himself in the field, sort of, as an owner of an agency representing artists. My youngest son, Ben, spends a lot of time surfing the waves as if coming out of one of my paintings, my oldest is in the business world, and a pair of twin grandchildren are educated in art from an early age, a fourth generation in a family of artists. And the overseeing the entire "orchestra" is Yossi, my life partner over 30 years.
"I was born with a paintbrush in one hand, and dad's camera in the other. It's something in one's DNA, the whole family is born with it. There's something that has probably passed onto artists' children. It trickles."
Eshet Cohen began her artistic journey with a completely different brush. In 1985 she traveled to Paris to study cinema and theater art. She worked as a makeup artist for years. "On Paris Fashion Week sets and Ballet shows, I used to do body painting, and my works were published every week on front pages. This was an unknown field in Israel at the time." Then she returned to Israel and opened a professional makeup school, and also joined her father's studio working with him when he was photographing models.
How was it working with Mula?
"It wasn't easy at all. I also do not recommend joining a family business. But it was a lesson for life because when you learn from the best, it permeates and you learn. The whole family worked together, it was not easy, but I always knew how to find my niche. I was more in the art section and less on the business side, I chose to stand aside and quietly create ."
Were there any extenuations for his daughter?
"Not at all, it was even harder, because the demands were really great. I was not asked to go to Paris, to study make-up, I traveled because I really liked it, and it was also clear in the family that everyone brings what they are good at. There were times when I would work with makeup for hours and all of a sudden my father would say, 'take it all off, do it again from the beginning.' Once I did the makeup for Ofra Haza (a popular local singer) for hours, Japanese style makeup, and suddenly he yelled 'take it all off! From the beginning!' In the end, the photograph became an iconic image."
That is tough
"True, but even though it was difficult, that's how I learned the importance of punctuality. He would take his glasses off, examine my work closely and say, 'this line is not straight, there is crease here'. Pedantry was very evident in his work and there were many demands, which is great because today I demand much from myself, and know how to put my inner self on the canvas. I can work on a painting for two months, and one morning I can arrive in the studio and cover it all with paint and that's it, the painting is no more. Then I can start from the beginning until I feel it to be truthful."
Over the years, Eshet-Cohen transferred her work with makeup to the canvas and ceramics. "At first I called it 'make-up tools'."
At the time, she opened her studio in Tel Baruch, and last year opened the gallery in Jaffa. The seafront gallery is the place most suited to the atmosphere she creates.
Eshet Cohen also works with the Blue Gallery in the United States where she has exhibited solo exhibitions. She also exhibits in Europe, achieving international recognition and success. In 2017, she exhibited at one of the satellite shows at the Venice Biennale.
Her paintings are auctioned for tens of thousands of dollars.
"That makes me very proud that people appreciate my works and are willing to invest so much money in my paintings," she says with a smile. "There is a place today for contemporary artists, and I get feedback from customers who tell me they hang my painting near their paintings by Jackson Pollock and Picasso, which is a very big compliment because these are artists I get the most inspiration from."
It is easy to imagine anything in the sea of paint spilling on Eshet-Cohen's canvas. In the series "Colors of Life," for example, she explains, the layers of color are like the layers of life. "Every day there is a different layer, every time it's a new layer of a different color. Sometimes we get up in the morning and see pink and sometimes black. Sometimes there is blue, and all these colors create something unique together."
"The first big painting I sold," she recalls, "was to a couple of beautiful Americans close to 90 years of age. They came into the gallery, and the woman just started crying; from the bottom of her heart. I brought her water, soothed her. Then she told me that the painting reminded her of her whole life, from the Holocaust to the present day, 'I see everything there. I see my family, I see the optimism,' I was glad to see what my work could do to people"
Eshet Cohen loves the sea, it is evident in her paintings and the work process as well. She travels around the world looking for sunsets and sunrises, painting in Florida, Greece, and Paris.
When air travel begins again, her dream is not only to fly and work on by the sea in Greece but also to meet the tourists in her Jaffa gallery again. "I've always fe
lt there like I was abroad, there were many tourists who would come in and the sea would provide endless inspiration."
She was scheduled to exhibit in New York this year. "were you disappointed when that exhibit was canceled?
No. If I have my paints with me, I am fine. Especially now in spring when all the colors come out and there are so many flowers. As an artist, I know things break along the way, you can work for weeks on a ceramic dish and put it in the oven, and because of an electrical malfunction or anything else, the dish can explode. that's part of life. These things must be accepted as well."
Before COVID-19, she says, she would travel to Miami once a year and exhibit her works there. "There is something very strange out there: the sunrise is over the sea, so when I draw I feel that everything is upside down," she said
"Here in Israel I sometimes order a small truck and take huge, three-meter-long canvases to paint on the beach. Once I was painting and a sudden wind turned my canvas into a sail that flew away and just disappeared. To this day, I have no idea where it is."
Eshet-Cohen who writes of her artistic experiences in a blog concludes by saying, "art is necessary for the mind and soul of the artist and the viewer."