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Insides on the Outside
CoverArtist: Eva Rose Cohen: A microscopic look at being an artist and being human
Above: "Insides on the Outside"
Below: Eva Rose Cohen

Knowledge can promote peace of mind. On the other hand, it can increase fear. What's lurking inside me?
- Eva Rose Cohen

by Norma Smith Olson

On one level it's a visual joke. Eva Rose Cohen was thinking about the familiar expression - "she wore her heart on her sleeve" - when she created the mixed media piece, "Insides on the Outside," on the cover of this month's magazine. But, she wondered, what if it wasn't just her heart that was visible, but also her lungs, stomach, intestines and other body parts?

The artwork that started as a colored pencil drawing of a woman wearing a T-shirt with her internal organs on display has both figurative and literal meanings for Cohen.

"You kind of put your feelings out there if you're someone who is wearing your insides on the outside," she says. "It's about being emotional, expressive and transparent."

From a literal viewpoint, with today's advances in biomedical sciences and increasingly sophisticated visualization technologies, we can better see what's going on inside our bodies. "That's kind of a wonderful thing," Cohen says. "But in this time of increased surveillance, there are fears about data security, privacy, breaches - and who has access to that information.

"Knowledge can promote peace of mind. On the other hand, it can increase fear. What's lurking inside me?" Cohen says.

Filtered or boxed?

Fanciful and imaginative, comical and humorous, sharp and raw, realistic and political, progressive and feminist, historically Jewish and musically themed - Cohen's artwork goes in a lot of directions. And she likes it that way.

Her drawings or paintings are grounded in the real world of people, things, and places. She likes to push the boundaries of what's real. She plays with patterns, line and color, often layering her artwork with different mediums.

Cohen is currently creating a series of black-and-white comic strips about the lived experience of being an artist - the challenges and creative processes. The first three in her series have been published on the mnartists.org website, with three more in the works yet this year. In one comic, she explores the concept of being a box or a filter artist.

"Basically, artists could be broadly grouped into one of two categories," Cohen explains. "If you're a box artist, you have a plan and are intentional about the work you make." Before starting, the artist has thought about how she wants to create and why, what materials will be used, what the end product will look like. "Making the work is about executing the plan," she says.

If you're a filter artist, your work happens more spontaneously. It's more automatic. "Your hand or arm is a conduit for inspiration from a subconscious level," Cohen says. "Often, the artwork is more abstract, but not necessarily."

Cohen says she tends more to the boxed style. "I have ideas about what I want to make. I think about what I want to say, how I want things to look. I'm a little more [planned about] what I do."

Yet like many artists, Cohen uses both strategies. "Being totally locked into one mode can be limiting," she says.

The filter approach also works into her artwork. "Especially in my work with patterns and backgrounds. I'll start playing with lines - it may be a squiggle, and I didn't plan out that squiggle, but I like how it looks and I respond to it."

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Working it out

Cohen has five or six jobs outside of her artwork. "Which is true of a lot of artists," she says. She teaches Judaics at an afternoon Hebrew school, located at the Talmud Torah of St. Paul. At her congregation, Or Emet: Minnesota Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, she's the director and a teacher at the monthly Jewish cultural school, where she also plans holiday events for families and prepares students for their bat/bar mitzvah.

Cohen has several jobs in medical training as well, including as a medical actor and standardized patient trainer. She helps coach medical students and other professionals - representing a patient's perspective, offering suggestions surrounding language usage, behavior and ways to make a patient feel more comfortable and respected.

In her artistic process, Cohen often recycles or repurposes supplies and even her own artwork. She drew "Insides on the Outside" with colored pencils on black construction paper years ago and set it aside. Later, when she had leftover acrylic paints from an art project with her students at Or Emet, she connected her earlier drawing with a newly painted-from-leftovers canvas to create a finished collage composition.

"Sometimes my creative ideas will come to me from really concrete, expressive things," Cohen says. "And, sometimes it's colors and patterns. Often it's connected to not wasting materials and to have something beautiful come out of those urges."

FFI: www.evarosecohen.com

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