Artist Biography

Max Arthur Cohn



Cohn was born in London in 1903 and emigrated with his parents to the United States in 1905. As a teenager, Cohn took a job in New York City at an art studio where he was introduced to the process of screenprinting for commercial advertising. His keen observation of this process eventually led him to devise his own technique of "utilizing the method of silkscreen as fine art."

From 1925 through 1927, Cohn studied at the Art Students League in New York where he was influenced by his instructors, Ashcan School artist John Sloan and the great draftsman Boardman Robinson. Students in his class included Alexander Calder, Adolph Gotliebb, Otto Soglow and John Graham.

But Cohn wanted, in his words, "to broaden his basic knowledge of painting and art" and left for France in 1927 to "widen his viewpoint." He studied at the Academy Colarossi in Paris and wandered the neighborhood of rue de Seine where he was influenced by the local exhibitions of Modernist artists.

During this period, Cohn said he was influenced by Picasso and Matisse in his use of color so that his paintings began to "liven up." The emphasis was on the structure itself, creating a forceful and dominant design in his work.

Cohn produced paintings and watercolors of urban landscapes of his adopted city. He focused on waterfront scenes showing shipping, construction, water towers and boats. These industrial landscapes often featured figures, providing a human element to the geometric quality of his art. The work Cohn produced during this trip abroad was exhibited in his first one-man show at the New York Civic Club in 1929.

After another stay in France in the early 1930s, painting images in St. Tropez, Cohn returned to Kingston, New York, where he produced numerous rural landscapes. These landscapes almost always included some geometric element of human dwellings or industry.

In the mid to late 1930s, Cohn worked on the Easel Project for the WPA. He produced 26 paintings, many of which recorded industrial America. Cohn focused on factories, steel mills, power plants and waterfront scenes. His palette and use of light lends a richness to these works.

In 1937 Cohn and his wife purchased a summer home in Milford, New Jersey. It was at this time Cohn organized the Delaware Valley Artist's Association with Clarence Carter, Louis Bosa, Lee Townsend and Meyer Wolfe. Now residing so closely to the Bethlehem Steel Plant, Cohn often painted the structure plein air. Local police grew wary of this activity, and at one time he was arrested and briefly imprisoned out of suspicion of being a foreign spy.

Throughout the 1940s, Cohn continued to produce his fine screenprints. To introduce his methods to other artists, he co-authored a book in 1942 with J. I. Beigeleisen titled Silk Screen Stenciling as a Fine Art.

Looking back on this important time in his career, Cohn said: "With the usual method of silkscreen, the colors come on very heavy. I tried to make the silkscreen more or less imitate the quality of a watercolor in its transparency."

In the 1950s, Cohn owned a graphic arts business in Manhattan where he demonstrated and helped a young Andy Warhol do his first silkscreen prints.

Cohn's realism began to evolve in the 1950s. The influences of Cubism and Abstraction became more apparent in his work. This was a transitional time for Cohn as he adopted these techniques more and more into his own art.

From the 1960s until his death in 1998, Cohn continued to perfect his mastery of Abstraction. His abstract work almost always involved the use of recognizable figurative forms. But even these become obscured in his latest works.