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Conversations with Raphaele Cohen-Bacry

Today we’d like to introduce you to Raphaele Cohen-Bacry.

Hi Raphaele, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I am a painter and mixed media artist and I spent the first part of my life in Paris. This is where I learned from some of the best artists in France while completing my Doctorate in pharmacology and a degree in performing arts at l’Ecole de la Rue Blanche. I also attended printmaking classes and hours of live model sessions at La Grande Chaumière, eager to experiment with different techniques.

I worked in my Parisian studio for several years, spending a few months in NYC now and then to work with other artists. I moved to California in 2003 where I expanded my artistic career. I also pursued my interest for healing and natural medicines. I now spend my time between Los Angeles and Arizona where I regularly show my work in solo and group shows. My most recent large event was at Encino Terrace Gallery, CA, a solo show of over 40 collages and paintings. I work with many different media, and I often choose unexpected and recycled materials for my research (such as magazines, cardboard, tree bark and even eggshells).

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
With time, and it got even more obvious in the last year, I reached the conclusion that life is a succession of overcome obstacles. You fall, you feel sorry for yourself, you get up, you fall again and so on, and little by little you come to understand that there is no other way to learn and to show what you’ve got inside, what you are capable of. You also learn what is and was is not worth fighting for. I don’t cease to be amazed by the fact that however well prepared you think you are, the blow seems to come from what or who you expected it the least. My personal challenges have been many, mostly related to my romantic nature. For example when I came to this country, I had to learn to reconcile myth with reality. Things are different now because people travel so much, but when I was a teenager and then a young adult, I had a vision of America made of a “collage” of classic movies, rock songs, Henry Miller, Philip Roth and Steinbeck’s books, among many. I had took several trips to the US and spent months in NYC, but as a visitor I had the leisure to focus only on what I was interested in (namely art galleries, museums, architectures, theaters and so on). Even though I arrived in NYC 2 days before 9/11 and was in shock for a long time, I was never really confronted to the daily life and struggles of the average person. So yes, I would say accepting a reality that I do not like is the biggest challenge, precisely because my work as an artist is to build my own world, idealized and free of the mundanes. So on one hand, I have survived in the real world, and I want to be close to other human beings and share their preoccupations, but I also want to preserve some idealism and uplifting quality in my work.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am a painter by training but a few years ago when a friend gallery owner started to give me countless art magazines, I began to explore collage as an art form and make it my new personal mean of expression. What was innovative in the way I approached my collages and what made them unique in their scale and style is the fact that I used pictures of artworks as my main material. By tearing and assembling images of famous art, I created new images of my own although one would still be able to recognize some familiar segments. I have also used large pieces of wallpaper on my bigger pieces on canvas. This became my way of paying tribute to artists that came before me and re-purposing material, which is a recurrent theme in my work.

I conceive a collage in a very different way than I does a painting: the construction of a collage is a fragmented process that must be planned and leaves very little room for mistake.

This resembles the method of the archeologist who reconstitutes and reveals a preexisting object or the way a detective puts clues together to unveil the truth. For the fragments, theses torn papers act as clues that guide the eye through the creative process and towards the construction of an image. This process led to something new and personal that integrates art history in a very practical manner.

I am now taking this to a next level by integrating my collage experience in my large-scale paintings. I have been working on large formats for many years, revisiting and channeling the French movement of “Lyrical Abstraction”. But this new painting phase is taking me to new territories, and the results so far have been fascinating to me: although these are paintings, they carry the spirit of collage. By a strange phenomenon, images of different artworks come together to form a painting that has its own style and energy. The circle is completed.

The project I have for the next few months is to continue this series of large paintings that will explore and push further these make believe collages.

What matters most to you? Why?
Stay true to myself and reach people who resonate with what I do. I believe that if I can appeal to people on different levels (visual, intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual) while keeping integrity and honesty in my work, I will have accomplished my “mission”.

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Raphaele Cohen-Bacry

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