Donna Cohen was born in Brooklyn and bred in Queens. Her childhood and adolescence was dominated by competitive swimming and art. Her parents were fond of neither. But the need to create could not be stifled by parental decree, so Donna majored in art in High School, complemented the work in school by attending the Arts Students League in NY where she studied anatomy and watercolor on the weekends, and by attending the Summer program at the Rhode Island School of Design her Junior year where she developed a portfolio for college admissions to art school.
Donna then attended the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, receiving a BFA in Experimental Studios. Her focus was both painting and printmaking, with 24/7 self-expression.…
Encouraged to experiment but, more importantly, to do work that mattered, Donna discovered that abstract art opened the door to her subconscious and imbued her work with meaningful inquiry and constant revelation. For her, it was an unexpected universe beyond fruit baskets and nudes.
At the same time, "art-tech" study conferred patience and process while etching in the print studio, and color and form came from stapling large canvases to the floor, mixing pigments and chemicals, and pouring paint.
As a result, her college work was not unrecognized. Donna was honored in her junior year by being hired to run the printmaking studio while the University "gave" her exclusive and sole residence in a large art classroom for the Summer preceding her senior year.
After graduation, armed with a degree, unlimited resolve, and a hunger to learn more while doing, Donna started the journey that many artists have post-college. A very eclectic first year as an artist assistant, printmaking assistant, graphic designer, roller skate mechanic and entrepreneurial carrot cake baker on Venice Beach.
Then, through a series of not-so-random coincidences she landed in San Francisco with a college roommate working, at its inception, for the very first computer graphic agency in the world. “Computer graphics just clicked for me in a way nothing else had. The combination of art and logic, imagery and math, right-brain left-brain, painting and programming seemed to find an electrifying sweet spot I didn't know I had.”
Thus began a solid decade in the Bay Area at the dawn of what would become Silicon Valley, the hub of the computer world. It was an incredibly productive and memorable time: Donna worked for SoftAd, the first interactive advertising agency, consulted with the Human Interface Group at Apple, developed and launched the computer graphics curriculum at the Academy of Art University and taught there for four years.
And, while teaching had the satisfaction of giving knowledge and receiving a steady paycheck, it came with an added benefit that could not have been more perfect: short work days and access to the all the latest computer equipment. It was there that Donna developed a body of computer-generated art that she showed in various Bay Area galleries and juried national traveling shows. She also produced an award-winning documentary on computer graphics, and had her own 3D animation business where she produced for clients as well as served as consultant for them to enter this brave new digital art universe.
Many years in the Bay Area transitioned into shuttle consultancies between Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles, the UK, Europe, and Asia, as Donna was "in demand" in the literally exploding world of computer graphics, and she has the credit of many industry and global firsts. In the end she spent three decades famously marrying technological capabilities with entertainment experiences. While working at Warner Music Group she produced and debuted the first CD-ROMs in partnership with Apple Computer. She produced the first virtual music festival, music ringtones, and music apps, and she consulted with all the record labels at Warner to develop the internet as a platform to speak directly to their customers. She was Warner's first Vice President of Internet Strategies and Business Development. Other jobs and clients included Microsoft, Phillips, TouchCommerce (now Nuance+Microsoft), Pizza Time Theatre, Reflexion Health, RingWorld Networks and a slew of software start-ups.
All of this led to Donna’s renown as an expert at both the work and commentary/scholarly analysis. Her numerous speaking engagements included solo talks and panels at Digital Hollywood, MacWorld Expo, Webnoize, Forrester Consumer Forum, and the Interactive Communication Society. In the press, she and her projects received rave reviews from Billboard, the Wall Street Journal, the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, USA Today, and American Cinematographer, among others. Articles she penned were published in the Whole Earth Software Review, Computer Graphics Today, DMNews Essential Guide to eCommerce, and the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), again, among many others. Her proudest affiliation was as a Member of the American Film Institute (AFI) – Apple Computer Advisory Board.
In 2010, with her daughter minutes away from leaving the nest for the University of Chicago and her new husband, the writer Brian Lane, encouraging her to "get back to real art", Donna finally found the calm and the inspiration to escape the buzz of the digital world and commit to the hard hard hard work of painting with paints. It helped that she took a part-time teaching job at the same time, as Assistant Professor at California State University Long Beach, teaching courses in New Media, and Disruptive Media, and Electronic Art History. This meant every hour of every day was doing art or talking art.
On the "doing art" front in her new little Hollywood Hills studio at home, Donna started with watercolors that weren't watercolors in any traditional sense. They were micro-sculptures of acrylic paint flooded live with liquid color, photographed with a macro lens and then printed on archival paper -- what she would call her "WetWorks" process of sui generis, brightly-colored, 3-dimensional landscapes captured in action frame images. Imagine a real world slice of Jupiter's weather, rather than a digitally re-created instrument view. Or just imagine gorgeous, controlled and carved upheavals of paint mixed in high resolution.
This led to Donna answering Brian's call for an abstract illustrator to craft 64 full-page impressionistic works for his book "A Tiny Tale", a synaesthetic children's story for adults. According to Brian, there was literally no other artist who could do this work, and the project had languished for years as he had hunted fruitlessly for an illustrator whose own vision would be inspired by his.
When the book and its art were finally done and being released in 2015, Brian was determined to flee Los Angeles and move to a higher latitude, while Donna was recalling the old country firehouse that her college friends lived in outside of Syracuse "back in the day" (at the same latitude Brian yearned for). To Donna it had been an idyllic setting, and she had long pledged that when she got older she would move to the country and focus on her art.
So that's what happened. In 2015, Donna and Brian and their dogs moved up up up to a private forest on the Hood Canal in Seabeck, Washington. Living in the middle of nowhere on seven acres with a sunroom as a studio and no neighbors in view, Donna began to live her dream.
“My art has matured, I have a patience I didn’t have before. I do acrylic on canvas now. Nothing tricky or techie. Just me and paints and brushes and canvas. And I have not the luxury but the insistence now to spend months on a painting working to get it righter than right, to change my goals as I go, to react to what I find in what I've just painted, with no external deadlines. So I fill the canvas with questions and answers and yearnings, with objects and marks and totems and endless Easter eggs you can find if you look, if you first examine the whole from one latitude, and then, like me, you change latitudes and attitudes and see what you were not open to seeing before. Put it this way: the last many days of my work on a painting are so intricate only a very fine double zero paintbrush will suffice. Every week of my work the paintbrush tips get smaller and smaller until they would be too tiny to leave a mark. That's when the work is done."
Donna has learned so much while painting in acrylics she has a bowl of q-tips and cotton balls and freely experiments with strokes and colors, constantly stepping back to review and either wiping the last strokes away or continuing on, or painting the whole thing over! While Brian indulges Donna by finding her exotic and new paints and pigments from around the world.
So, when you spend time with Donna's paintings, hopefully you will find yourself by connecting with her strong sense of color and design, her sense of humor and whimsy in shapes and forms, and her deeply held belief that we are each just a fragment of something much greater, all of us rather perfectly imperfect.