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23 Nisan 5762 02:00Friday April 5, 2002

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Black Irises by Jack Cohen


Combining Art & Science
By Sarah Hershenson

(April 4) - Expressing himself through art creates the balance to Jack Cohen's life as a scientist

NETANYA resident Jack Cohen is a scientist who believes that the creativity needed for art and the discipline needed for science are two sides of the same coin.

Even though his role as a scientist, he feels, is to measure what exists in the universe, he nevertheless delights in the unscientific elements of life, those that cannot be measured, which he expresses through his paintings.

THERE are a great many scientists who recognized the need for developing one's creativity as well as one's mind.

Cohen enjoys telling the story of a woman who approached Albert Einstein, and asked for advice concerning her brilliant son. The mother said her son was undecided as whether to be an artist or scientist. Einstein asked if the son was very creative, to which she replied "yes." "If so," concluded Einstein, "your son might very well be able to become a scientist."

JACK Cohen grew up in the East End of London and made his decision to be an artist when he was a child and given a small book about Vincent Van Gogh. "I still have something in common with him," quips Cohen, "since I have never sold a painting."

In high school, he studied art but, after graduation, "put it on the back burner" for almost 30 years.

"I was advised that art doesn't pay well, and put it off until I had a job."

He eventually became a scientist in Maryland, but art always remained his first love: while working, he took art courses at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC and at the Jewish Community Center, Rockville, MD.

His route back to the "artistic track," started during the years between 1990-96. At the time, he held the positions of Professor, Department of Pharmacology, with joint appointment in the Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington DC, and was also the Program Director of the Molecular Biochemistry Program at the National Science Foundation in Arlington VA.

DURING the course of his scientific career, Cohen has published over 250 articles including five books. His areas of expertise include biochemistry, pharmacology, cancer research, and collating information to produce books that inform other scientists of what is going on.

He has also written a novel about growing up Jewish in the East End of London in the 1950s, short stories about personal experiences in Israel, and updates an e-mail newsletter every two days about events in Israel.

COMING to live in Israel has been something he thought about for a long time. He first became acquainted with the country as a Research Fellow at the Weizmann Institute from 1964-66, but returned to the US afterwards. Early in the winter of 1993, while they were living in Maryland, Jack and his wife, Naomi Ruth, finally decided that where they really wanted to be was in Israel, closer to Naomi's parents, Hilly (z"l) and Milly Silverstein, who made aliya almost a decade earlier.

Aliya would also bring Jack and Naomi closer to their daughter, Miriam, who made aliya in 1991, works as a counselor for the AACI, and lives with her husband Jeff and three children in Beersheva.

On the other hand, aliya would separate them from their son, Simon, and their daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in California. The Cohens weighed the options and decided that plane visits and communication devices would keep them in close contact with their family in California, and moved to Netanya.

"We were always Zionists," says Cohen. "Naomi Ruth had even lived here for three years as a child. After my fellowship at the Weizmann Institute, I tried to get a job here, but nothing worked out. Now was the time to make the move.

"This time, things opened up for us. Naomi Ruth decided to change careers and devote her energies to volunteer work with Russian and North American immigrants. I wanted to come to Israel before I retired," Cohen points out, "and this time was offered the possibility to embark on a project as chief scientist and researcher at the Advanced Technology Center at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

"THIS was also my chance to become more active as a painter.

"In fact, I have painted more in the last two years than in the previous 20. I also began taking classes and my art has taken on a new spurt with the help of my teacher, Alex Umanski at the Netanya Art Institute. In addition, I now share studio space at Studio 6 with the members of the Netanya Artist's Cooperative. These have been wonderful privileges, and to study with Umanski has been a definite boon.

"Still, I am convinced that creativity ultimately comes from within. A teacher can help with the technical aspect of painting but not with imagination.

"I think my artistic growth has a connection to our living in Israel. Even though there is terror, I feel freer in Israel, without the need to justify myself. I also feel that my art has taken on a new dimension. It's more subdued than it used to be.

"This is a very different time in my life, and my painting reflects it. I have become interested in painting what exists, if only for a few moments - a shadow on a ceiling, a sunset, a reflection in a window, the changing light off the sea, or the shadow of a tree on a purple wall."

Cohen's paintings were displayed at a recent exhibition, titled "Shadows," at Heichal Tarbut in Netanya. Many of his works show strong geometric elements intermixed with abstract, surreal components. This has been described as Cohen's scientific/analytical side that is in tension with his creative/artistic side.

FOR Jack Cohen, expressing himself through his art creates the balance to his life as a scientist.

"A scientist needs to work with people," he explains, "in order to get the project done. Painting is a solitary occupation.

"I work five days a week. One day a week, I devote to learning Hebrew, and on Shabbat I paint. Living in Israel has enriched my life even though I am secular. I have lived in England and the US, and they are both wonderful places, but this is the place I really fit in and belong."

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