We had the good fortune of connecting with Raphaele Cohen-Bacry and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Raphaele, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
It may be more accurate to say that the arts chose me rather than I chose them. I actually resisted it for a while because there were so many other things that interested me. When I was 18 I was not yet ready to jump into the arts as a career. I went to pharmacy school to study pharmacology, botany, chemistry and so on with great interest. As a matter of fact, I am still very much involved in phytotherapy and other natural medicines, and I always study how to preserve or restore health. My interests have always been very diverse and I never wanted to limit my mind and curiosity to one area. All the different domains that help better understand the mystery of life are fascinating to me and I believe they all come together to lead us towards the best part within us. Both the artist and the scientist must have a creative mind and there is actually little difference between arts and sciences if you approach them as a way to enrich yourself. For me, they all are means to escape mediocrity. In fact I often feel like an alchemist. I look at my studio and all the paintings, the collages, the projects, the research, and I see a laboratory where I conduct experiments to create my own images. So I did feel attracted to several careers in my twenties, wanting to do it all. But as I matured I opted for the arts. Making the decision to be an artist is the choice of the adult self, or at least it was for me. I needed to understand better who I was before I could project it onto the canvas or any other support. That is how a piece of art becomes unique and authentic, and that makes people want to own it. I was also fascinated by the artist’s way of life, or what I imagined it to be. I probably needed that dose of romanticism to give me the guts to enter the career and stamina to persist. The artists always seemed so above the rest of us, more independent, free and not preoccupied by the mundane. Of course I have since come to realize this is not completely accurate! But nevertheless this is the path that suits me the best. It is a career and more importantly a way of looking at life. It also often helps me cope with difficult or unpleasant situations. In a way, anything that I can turn into a piece of art or use to develop my practice is not completely lost. Here is a quick and recent example: when the 10 huge ficus trees were cut down on my street within a few hours, I felt a sense of loss on many levels, and a sense of being powerless. So the next day I went to the stumps and while applying a large sheet of paper and using the “frottage” technique, I “recorded” the imprint of each one. I wanted to keep the memory of what once was, before the stumps were removed and forgotten. I will use these in a later project whenever it may be. When I create, I believe I am putting the best of myself into the world, the most personal contribution I can make in all honesty and integrity.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Creating was never an issue but like most young artists it took me a while to find my own personal voice. I was influenced by other people’s work and was able to detach only by working a lot and accepting that not everything I do has to be my best piece. I think what sets me apart is my willingness to constantly challenge my own practice and to be able to convey my message with almost any medium. And that is why three years ago I stopped using paint brushes or any direct tools in an effort to break patterns and repetition. I had been painting for many years and wanted to develop new techniques: with successive folding, dipping, and dripping I created new interactions between the surface and the medium. I also made very unusual sculptures with eggshells as I was interested in using something that is beyond recycling, something beautiful and perfect like an egg that we discard everyday once it served its culinary purposes. I also work with bark fragments from Eucalyptus trees that have fallen on the floor and have no other use. In the same spirit I am currently developing a large series of collages. What is innovative in the way I approach collage is the fact that I am using pictures of artworks from auction magazines. I tear and assemble images of famous art to create new images of my own. I also use large pieces of wall paper on my bigger pieces. This is my way of re-purposing material and paying tribute to artists that came before me. And my most recent exploration is video art, and I enjoy making those almost surrealist one-minute movies. The business part of art came a little bit less naturally as it was not easy to put prices on my work, but once I got my first sales and saw my work in offices, hospitals and at people’s houses it built up my confidence. But it seems to always be just the beginning…
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would take them to some of those less known places that it took me years to discover because they are the real essence of Los Angeles, and of course to lots of art galleries or alternative spaces. After a hot day I would bring them to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens on West Adam (https://www.peacelabyrinth.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The person that I would like to thank and honor has left us a few months ago at 102 and after a very full life as a painter, a print maker and a teacher. Angelica Caporaso was my first and very influential mentor when I went to Paris to start my art career. She was from Buenos Aires and the whole country of Argentina was resonating into her accent. She had an immense personality and never spoke a word that was not necessary. She had a way of pressing me with important questions and would not let go if I was trying to escape. Most of our conversations were about art and what I wanted to do with my career, but also about life in general. Several of my fellow students became my best friends and still play a very important role in my life to this day. So thank you Angelica for your integrity and the influence you had on my life.