ByÂ DORIS RUBENSTEIN
The ancient cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Sea knew about the power of pixels long before computers were invented. Only they called their pixels “mosaics” and used them to create lasting works of art that we still enjoy centuries later.
Minneapolis artist Connie Cohen understands the power and versatility of the little tiles that are used to create mosaic pictures. She demonstrates both her understanding of her medium and her considerable skill and talent in transforming her ideas and vision into art that we can enjoy today. Cohen’s work is on display at the St. Paul JCC through the end of February.
While the art of mosaics is an ancient one, Cohen sees it as “an up-and-coming medium” in the contemporary art world. She uses smalti tiles that are made only in Italy and Mexico. They come in a variety of shapes, color and finishes that add light and texture, and set these tiles far apart from those that cover your bathroom floor.
Cohen only began working in mosaics eight years ago, after taking a course with her mother, Lois Wexler of St. Louis Park, in Ravenna, Italy, to celebrate Lois’ conquest of cancer. Previously, Cohen had worked in the field of architectural and graphic design. She received her B.A. in studio arts from the University of Minnesota and her master’s degree at the Southern California Institute of Architecture near Los Angeles.
Most of the works on exhibit at the St. Paul JCC are representational or stylized. Cohen often chooses her subjects from ideas springing from her own life experiences. A touching weeping willow tree is recreated from life: just such a tree stood near the window of her father Vernon’s room at a local hospice as his life neared its end. While the mosaic is mounted on a solid backing, Cohen’s choice of tiles makes it appear as if it is illuminated from behind like a Tiffany glass window on a cloudy day, deepening the mood of quiet, resigned sadness.
- “Weeping,” a mosaic by Connie Cohen, conveys a mood of quiet, resigned sadness. (Photo: Courtesy of the St. Paul JCC)
Several pieces are three-dimensional, particularly those where Cohen has incorporated seashells into the mosaic along with tiles. The surface of the shells, especially one transformed into a blooming calla lily, challenges the eye of the beholder to determine if it’s real or ceramic. Since there’s no sign that forbids touching, the mosaic can be experienced in a tactile way as well.
Since Cohen draws from the world around her, most of her subjects will be familiar to people in the Twin Cities: cattails in a swamp, a Somali man in a bright cap. Frequent flyers will recognize Minnesota farm fields as viewed from 25,000 feet. They are all things we know, yet new through their transformation into an unusual medium.
- Connie Cohen began working in mosaics just eight years ago. (Photo: Courtesy of the St. Paul JCC)
Most of Connie Cohen’s works, executed in her south Minneapolis home or a studio in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, are done on commission. This is her first local solo show, well worth the trip to St. Paul to see. For the rare Minnesotan who is too faint of heart in the midst of the cold and ice to venture out, many of the works in the show and others not in the show can be seen on her Web site:Â spizzimosaics.com.
Connie Cohen’s exhibit of mosaics is on display through Feb. 22 in the Gallery Walk at the St. Paul JCC, 1375 St. Paul Ave. For information, contact the JCC at 651-698-0751 or visit: www.stpauljcc.org.