Walkabout: Photographs and Mixed-Media Works by Liz Cohen

November 13 - December 23, 2011

Artists’ muses can assume unexpected forms; the artist’s challenge is to be open to the muse’s inspiration. For artist Liz Cohen, a handmade doll from her childhood has emerged as a significant influence in her art. As a little girl, she had wanted one toy more than any other: a shiny new Betsy Wetsy doll. Once she had one of these dream toys of her own, however, she found herself coveting her older sister’s simple, homemade cloth doll, named Hazel. Cohen negotiated with her sister to trade dolls, and counts pulling it off as her first real accomplishment. The doll, beloved by both sisters, actually changed custody several times as they grew into adults, finally coming to stay with Cohen for good some 20 years ago.

For most of her career as an artist, Cohen worked in watercolors and oils, painting images of mythological women, elements of her dreams, and seashells. Her work is infused with motifs and techniques learned in her world travels, including seven years living in Australia and working with Aboriginal people, as well as trips to Africa and Latin America.

Then, about 15 years ago, Cohen’s husband passed away and she immersed herself in creating art to help deal with her grief. She soon found Hazel began appearing frequently in her work. “Hazel represents joy and happiness to me,” Cohen says, “I’m trying to convey the joy of a simple, well-loved object to others.”

In the resulting Hazel-inspired series, Cohen works in new and sometimes mixed media. Walking around Hoboken, for example, she would photograph Hazel in different settings. Some photographs she paints with aboriginal motifs of dots and cross-hatching, and she’s also been making fabric art, sewing new dolls of her own creation. Ten to 12 pieces from this recent work, titled Walkabout: Photographs and Mixed-Media Works by Liz Cohen, were on display in the Upper Gallery of the Museum from Nov. 13 – Dec. 23.

Lately, Cohen has invented an entire alternate world, peopled by her handmade dolls, with its own language and religion, bridging different times and cultures. Drawing on her knowledge of other cultures’ traditional beliefs and mythologies, she has created a goddess-centered culture with these dolls, using fabrics that she has collected from all over the world. The mix of fabrics gives the impression that the dolls could be artifacts from any number of civilizations. Many of these were exhibited in New York City in November, in a show titled “Mother Lore,” at the Ceres Gallery, on 27th St. Find out more on her website, www.elizabethweinercohen.com.

Cohen’s studio is a staple on the Hoboken Artists Studio Tour, and her work has been exhibited in many solo and group shows. About 10 years ago, she founded the Hob’art artists group, which is searching for a permanent home. She was an art major at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Masters in Art and teaching credentials at the University of California at Berkeley. She has taught art for more than 30 years at a private school in Summit.

Cohen returned to the Museum on Sunday, Dec. 4, at 4 p.m., to discuss her work and answer visitors’ questions. The exhibit was supported by a block grant from the State/County Partnership program for the Arts, administered by the Hudson County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.