Artist Aliza Cohen painting in her studio.

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I grew up in the Bay Area, Oakland specifically. Now, I live in Berkeley and paint out of my studio in Richmond, CA.

What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?

Throwing away failed paintings, so much time and energy down the drain. You spend time with these objects and the dialogue I have with a painting creates a kind of shared history, me and this painting, we go back, we’ve shared some moments. But, editing is an important skill for artists. Not everything that comes out is going to be as good as you’re striving for and there are casualties along the way. It’s part of the artist’s work to recognize that.

How do you choose your materials?

I choose materials based on what I respond to and I’m attracted to high quality, luscious, pigment-heavy paints. Also, unique and sparkly things, like graphite and copper powder. I try to support artist-made materials and have been using Guerra acrylic pigments for a while now. I also love Williamsburg RGH and Gamblin for oil paint.

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

My work has changed a lot over the past few years. I started working more abstractly. I went from painting the suburban landscape outside my old studio window to painting abstract compositions. It was a very natural progressionthe landscapes became less and less recognizable, until you could very rarely pick out a landscape reference. And it pops up here and there in my current work. But it’s been two years of working with this new abstract subject matter and it is still exciting to me. The ideas are flowing like crazy. I can see myself continuing to paint large paintings, possibly expanding into installation. I’ve also been thinking about creating some ceramic sculptures related to the paintings.

It was a very natural progression: the landscapes became less and less recognizable, until you could very rarely pick out a landscape reference. And it pops up here and there in my current work.

Aliza Cohen

Do you remember the first work of art that captured your attention?

There have been so many, I don’t think I remember which was the first. I remember specific formative experiences. Seeing Matisse’s Woman with a Hat at the SFMOMA as young person, I was so impressed with his inventive paint handling. The Guston retrospective at the Met 10 years ago was another big one. I had many emotional experiences in front of certain paintings that I got to see in their places of origin. Picasso, Miro, El Greco and Goya all over Spain, Van Gogh in Amsterdam. Joan Brown at the San Jose Museum of Art a few years ago. Squeak Carnwath at the Oakland Museum. But most recently, I had a near religious experience at the new Anderson Collection at Stanford. Holy wow - it was like walking through a place with all my people in it. I can connect with every single one of those paintings.

What are some themes you find recurring in your pieces, intentional or not?

Place and the specificity of certain places that are significant to me. I also use symbols a lot as a way to tell stories in my work. I’ve always used symbols and over time I’ve collected quite a lot of them. They’re kind of my “painting language”.

How do the different elements color come together in your works?

I play with color. There is something about putting subtlety and in-your-face color in the same paintings that I really get a kick out of. That, and figuring out how to make sure it’s all balanced out when the painting is finished. I use a lot of different blacks, whites, and greys. I love to see how a warm white will respond to a cool white butted up against a cool black. It really moves the eye around in kind of a surreptitious way which I enjoy. I want the paintings to pull you in, lead you around, and push you out several different times, and color is one of the ways I achieve that.

What’s next for you?

A solid year of making more work, some big paintings, a few shows, hopefully another residency, and more of the same.