By Rich Simmons
Starting an art career during a global pandemic is incredibly bold, brave and admirable and those same words can be used to describe Jessie Cohen, known by her artist name Chromakane.
Her artwork is a beautiful hybrid of styles and influences and her story is also a mix of cultures and inspirations. The art is powerful and at the same time, delicate and elegant. There is an organic flow in the work which draws your eye gracefully around the pieces. The art creates a sense of calm and tranquility, and considering her art journey started in a time of turmoil, this was the artist at the right time that I needed to discover.
Enjoy meeting Chromakane, discovering her art and learning about her journey.
How did your journey in art begin?
I have many memories since childhood of being cooped up in my bedroom making stuff. Whether drawing comic books and flip-book animations, airbrushing clay figurines, creating collage art and photo manipulations, or learning macro photography… I think it’s this experimentation with different art forms which made me very curious early on, and it’s this curiosity which remains my driving force today as an artist. I also like to think that even though I’ve had creative bones for as long as I can remember, my journey in art begins again every time I explore a new form or technique, which is also what keeps things so fresh and exciting for me.
Your artist name is Chromakane. What is the story behind the name and what do you want Chromakane to become moving forwards?
I’ve been fascinated by Japanese contemporary pop and manga art for the longest time, from Takashi Murakami’s superflat otaku universe to Takeshi Obata’s dark aesthetic. What intrigues me most is the heightened sensorial experience of it all. And in my own Chinese culture, the concept of intense passion can often be associated with the colour red. So, taking these inspirations which always resurface in my art process, Chromakane combines ‘chroma’ (intense colour) and ‘akane’ (Japanese for red) as a metaphor for ‘intense passion’.
Chromakane began as a personal creative release, allowing me to explore my love for traditional hand drawing after several years building up a clinical corporate portfolio. Over the past year, Chromakane has turned into more of a brand with global reach and representation, through which I am keen to experiment with ways to take my work into as many new realms as possible, whether print, textile or tattoo art. My ambition for Chromakane is always to remain curious and experimental throughout the journey.
What is your creative process? What are the steps from idea to finished piece?
The most important first step in my creative process is that curiosity I’d mentioned previously: being curious to discover art and culture as well as experiment with new techniques. What also motivates and excites me to keep drawing is knowing that, with each new piece, I am creating an image which people have never seen before. Digital tools are essential to my process, especially as most of my finished products are digital giclée prints, but there is also something very raw about the artist hand which I don’t want to take away from my process. So whether I am beginning with a hand drawing or hand finishing a piece, it is important for me to include traditional techniques at some point along the way.
What themes, topics or narratives inspire your art?
I am of mixed Malaysian Chinese and French heritage, so having grown up between two worlds I am lucky to have experienced the beauty of different cultures on an intimate level. This is an overarching narrative for my art: I like to think of Chromakane as a way of reflecting on my own heritage, as well as being inspired by world culture, to share a new fusion of visual styles and stories with my audience. Emotions are equally important to me too: it was through drawing, particularly in the organic and intricate style I’ve developed now, that I learned to channel my emotions through my art and look at each new challenge as an opportunity for growth. The third narrative which inspires me is the idea of duality, which really ties everything together especially on a visual level: it is the combination of opposites which, just like with visual tension and negative space, brings balance to my art.
Did growing up in different parts of the world inspire your art style?
I would say that growing up in different parts of the world is the foundation for my art style today. I’ve experimented with different styles over the years but never really settled on one which I wanted to pursue with confidence as a full-time artist. I would also say that my style has evolved into what it is now – looking to bridge Eastern and Western art and culture – because I’ve wanted to feel more connected to who I am as a person. Always moving to new cities, away from the cultures you’ve grown up in and become attached to over time, can leave you feeling uprooted. So art can be an amazing vehicle to reconnect with your roots and learn more about the parts of the world you come from.
Has art or creativity helped you through any difficult moments in life?
Definitely! When I started Chromakane, I was going through a period of personal loss and spending a lot of time self-reflecting and trying to figure out my own identity. Creatively of course, but also as a person. Who did I want to become, what did I want to achieve, what kind of values did I want to convey through my work… Looking back at my introverted teenage years, I think I chose a creative career knowing that I could always find happiness or relief in it even during difficult moments, whether personal or professional. But because I chose one form of visual art as my profession, my creativity in that discipline can also become my source of discomfort, so it’s been important for me to find other creative releases to balance this out, like I have done with bouldering and ceramics for example.
Art can be stressful, especially starting a career during lockdown over the last couple of years. What do you do to unplug from those difficult or overwhelming moments?
I prefer to think of difficult or overwhelming moments as learning curves, even if not always crystal clear at the time since I can let my emotions get the better of me. But being stubborn-natured, a bit of a perfectionist and from a hard-working family background, my reflex is to always to overcome those challenging times. To unplug from them, I have picked up a couple methods along the way which have really helped me find the right balance: meditation and nature. Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting still and silent, but it always has to do with focussing on the breath, so it can be applied even when doing sports or other physical activities. That combined with the slowness and peacefulness of nature makes for a fail-proof remedy for man-made and man-induced stress.
Do you see yourself as a storyteller through your art?
I hope so! I hope that people find meaning and personal connection through my art. I like to think my art is both figurative and abstract at the same time: I draw literal shapes and spaces, but with organic distortion and contrasting colours. And I’ll draw each piece with a deeper meaning in mind combining figurative elements, like plants and creatures, with spiritual or emotional themes. Yet if people find another story through my work, one which relates to their own emotions and intimate life experiences, I would still be equally if not even more fulfilled knowing that my art has connected with someone on such a deep level.
If you could share a studio with any artist for a day, living or dead, who would you pick?
Yves Klein: I love his monochromatic colour palette, as well as his experimental style which blurred the lines between visual and performance art. Klein stated that ‘art is everywhere that the artist goes’, that the artist’s task is to capture immateriality wherever it might be found. It’s a powerful thing to know that artists have an ability to share their creative vision with others, telling stories through it in unique and engaging ways, and I would love to reach a point in my practice where I can confidently say that each art piece I create, beyond being a finished printed or painted product, is an experience.