By James Dungeon
[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Emma Fenton and Billy Rose, all of whom are showing pieces at “A New Look: Art Under the Auspices of Dana Cohn,” which runs Sept. 12-Oct. 16 at The Raven Café, 142 N. Cortez St., 928-717-0009. The opening reception is 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14.]
Before we get to some of the artists featured in the show, Betsy Dally and Maria Lynam, the art directors of The Raven Café, wanted to explain the idea behind it.
“So many of our friends and acquaintances have started their careers at the local colleges,” Lynam said. “Both Yavapai College and Prescott College are fortunate in having inspired instructors. Dana Cohn teaches painting at both institutions and we thought it would be a good introduction to the community to show them what can be achieved.”
“Once we decided [on the show] … we selected work that includes oils,acrylic, watercolor and pastel,” Dally added. “It is from students who are in their teens to those whose interest in art blossomed in retirement.”
What was your art background before taking a class with Dana Cohn and what were your early impressions?
Fenton: I’d only taken one art class before, and that was “Drawing 1” at Yavapai College, so painting was completely new. I’d kind of dabbled in painting on my own before, and I wanted to see where it would take me. I knew of Dana because my sister was friends with him, but I’d never met him and hadn’t seen much of his. I was excited, but didn’t know what to expect. … The first class we didn’t actually paint. We just went over the syllabus, but I had a good feeling about him from just the way he talked. I really enjoyed just kind of getting a feeling for painting the first couple of classes before things got more structured.
Rose: I was a science major before I took art classes with Dana and another one with Steve Mason at Yavapai College. After those classes, I decided to throw everything into fine art. I’d always done art for fun, as well as some music and performance art, but “Painting 1” with Dana in the fall of 2013 was the first time I took it more seriously. I took “Painting 2” with him after that, too. He was really encouraging and had a lot of great advice. He really only stuck it to you if you really wanted it, though, really asked for it. A lot of other classes I’ve had were structurally more focused on composition, all about form and getting things to be accurate. With Dana, if that was important for you, he taught you how to do it, but his thing was not so much to draw a cold, dead version of of the thing you’re looking at. Instead, he taught you to really look at the thing you’re drawing or painting, not just assume and recreate an archetype or symbol from your mind. I was surprised and excited.
What changed for you over the course of the class?
Fenton: Before the class, I had a feeling that art was very personal, but I didn’t have as strong a sense of how different people interpret different things in the same art. That was really interesting to me, how some of my different classmates could look at something and interpret completely differently than how I would. We had at least two group critiques in the class, which was very encouraging, not at all judgmental. A lot of artists get nervous about showing their art, especially if it’s very personal, but it was low pressure, which was nice. Dana has a certain technique, a style of teaching that’s more low key and casual, but also very personal. He inspires you a lot and encourages you to pursue wherever you feel your art should go. He definitely advises you but never oversteps certain boundaries or tries to tell you what you should be doing.
Rose: It was nice to have that art community in the classroom, which was something I hadn’t experienced for a long time. Dana is the artist that you always wanted to know, that you thought existed out there somewhere in the world. I’ve left Arizona many times, and when you’re in Prescott, you just don’t meet people like him every day. He’s so serious about art and literature. It’s all consuming for him, and that obsession rubs off on everyone around him.
What was something that was difficult for you, personally?
Fenton: A big part of it for me was not giving in to self doubt. I don’t think I’m doing anything incredibly different with my art. The old masters, they had original ideas. I don’t think I have any original ideas. I’m still getting trying to get past that thought. I thought I wasn’t good enough. It was mostly an internal struggle, but I did talk to Dana about it. He really listened and encouraged me to just follow my heart and go with what my gut tells me about art.
Rose: A lot of the class is structured so that you can swap out projects to some degree, but I wanted to challenge myself. I forced myself to work in Pointillism. I’d been a very physical painter before, but that was very different, slowing down and putting down these very deliberate, calculated forms. It was really helpful, though, and it changed the way I paint. I’m still physical, but I’ve become more calculated and thoughtful, which is beneficial.
Any other memorable interactions?
Fenton: I have several memories of Dana staying and talking after class for 20 minutes straight about art, life, and just anything and everything. There was one lady in class who was so inspiring to me. I’d see her across and the room and she always had a smile on her face. She didn’t think she was any good at painting, but just wanted to do it because she purely enjoyed it. That was really inspiring to me — to get in that mindset, not doing art to gain anyone’s approval, just doing it for yourself.
Rose: I met a couple of people in class who I became really good friends with, and reconnected with some people, including Jordan Palmer, who I knew growing up here. Dana pushed the people around him because he’s such a great artist and — I know this sounds really cheesy — but it’s not so much what he says about your art but how he reacts that really drives you. He’s such a funny guy, and every little thing has some personal story or memory associated with it. It makes you feel like you’ve done something when you shake something loose from him. I had a painting of a big rig swerving out of the way of a guy that had this creepy feeling to it. Dana was just staring at it, and started talking about this movie, “Out of the Blue,” and I was so excited because my painting triggered these memories and feelings in him.
How does it feel to have your art at this show?
Fenton: I’m really excited. I’ve never been in a show of any type before, so this is my first quote-unquote art show. I haven’t really shown too many people my art besides friends and family. I was surprised I had the opportunity. Dana told me about the show pretty early in the class. I was hopeful but thought it might not work out, that I might not get in. When it came up, I was excited and entered, and really tried to think positively about it. I’m really trying to be more positive now. It feels good to have my art out there.
Rose: I’ve had art shows before, but never shown anything at the Raven. It’s cool to come back here, to where I had the first part of my art education, and revisit that. I love that spot, and I look forward to seeing what else people who’ve taken Dana’s classes have done.
‘A New Look’
The following artists have work featured Sept. 12-Oct. 16 at The Raven Café, 142 N. Cortez St.
Jonathan Allred, Demi Anderson, Walt Barker, Howard Bedingfield, Jenny Borst, Dana Cohn, Cappi Comba, Cathy Cowen, Betsy Dally, Emma Fenton, Joanna Franke, Ellen Greenblum, Gail Holl, Mauricio Josytewa, Mariah McKennon, Jacie Morgan, Jordan Palmer, Ryan Parsons, Leslie Quinichet, Jason Rivera, Billy Rose, Daniel Scafani, Alexa Simpson, Mallory Van de Loo Brunk, & Terry Nagel Winkler
See art by Emma Fenton and Billy Rose and many more at “A New Look: Art Under the Auspices of Dana Cohn,” which runs Sept. 12-Oct. 16 at The Raven Café, 142 N. Cortez St., 928-717-0009. The opening reception is 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14.
James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com.
Tags: Alexa Simpson, Betsy Dally, Billy Rose, Cappi Comba, Cathy Cowen, Dana Cohn, Daniel Scafani, Demi Anderson, Ellen Greenblum, Emma Fenton, Gail Holl, Howard Bedingfield, Jacie Morgan, James Dungeon, Jason Rivera, Jenny Borst, Joanna Franke, Jonathan Allred, Jordan Palmer, Leslie Quinichet, Mallory Van de Loo Brunk, Maria Lynam, Mariah McKennon, Mauricio Josytewa, Prescott College, Ryan Parsons, student art, Terry Nagel Winkler, The Raven Café, Walt Barker, Yavapai College