The Q&A: Izhar Cohen

By Peggy Roalf   Monday April 3, 2017

Q: Originally from Israel, what are some of your favourite things about living and working in Italy?

A: For a year and a half now, I’m living with my wife and daughter in the city of my dreams: Florence. I consider it to be the cradle of my art:  Illustration. For two hundred years, this city has been the birthplace of the giants on whose shoulders, we illustrators are humbly standing. The spirits of Giotto, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Beato Angelico, Piero Della Franessca and many others, are roaming the streets and the air, but above all are evident to the eye. I’m immersed in a perpetual visual banquet. 

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: My method of work is a synthesis between the digital realm and the physical world. I sketch and draw the linear foundation of my artwork on paper, and then enhance it in Photoshop. My point of departure as an artist was watercolors. Since the computer became a dominant partner in my creative process, I found myself converting the transparent qualities of watercolors into it.  Other than that, a sketchbook as such is something I promise myself to go back to, but keeping on failing with delivering on my promise.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: The door is definitely one of the most important items in my studio. I consider it to be a crucial, defining instrument of separation from the rest of my home environment. My mental, creative playground is at its best when I’m detached from daily chores.

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: Usually when the time allowed has elapsed, when the deadline arrives.

At times though, I do manage to allow myself an extra night before handing over my artwork. Often when this happens, the night proves to be a source of modifications. 

Q: What was your favorite book as a child? What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: Since my mother tongue is Hebrew, my early experiences in reading were in that language. I remember vividly a book, beautifully illustrated with black and white photographs, telling the story of a lost dog which ends up being reunited with the boy who lost it. The last book I read was written by a friend, Amir Ziv, in Hebrew, titled Four Fathers. I just ‘swallowed’ it on a five hour flight; hope it’ll be translated into English soon.

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Etching. I just love it as it contains a multitude of surprises, between the initial drawing and the printed result. There are so many factors in the process that produces a ‘voice’ of their own: The metal plates, the acid, the tree sap, the paper. Sometimes while printmaking, I feel like I’m conducting a philharmonic orchestra.  

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: Definitely the mess in my mind. The lack of hierarchical order in my head is the almighty governor of my work. It is very difficult to live with, but still, it is my main source of inspiration and ideas.

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art?

A: Las meninas, by Velazquez. This painting has it all: The composition, the light, the story, the cinematographic direction and the presence of an expressive master in front of a canvas who turned a commissioned portrait job, into a timeless monument for humanity.

Q: Who was the [Thunderbolt] teacher or mentor or visiting artist who most influenced you early in your training or career?

A: Throughout the years I was blessed with many generous and brilliant teachers. It is an extremely difficult task for me to put one of them on the ultimate pedestal. One thing is certain, the people I’ve learnt most from were my fellow classmates. They constantly provided me with alternative ways of thinking and doing things through debate and example. For that I remain for ever grateful.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: For my last supper, I wish to own most of my own teeth to chew on some pitta bread with humus from my favorite humus master in Jaffa. But if the question relates metaphorically to my defining artwork, I wish it would be my last drawing.


Izhar Cohen was born in Raanana, Israel, 1963. His quest to embark on an artistic career began with his high school studies in Talma Yalin Art School, Tel Aviv. He then pursued his studies in the Bezalel art academy in Jerusalem for his BA. After graduation, he moved to Paris, where he studied printmaking at École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. Meanwhile, he got his first commissions from the French press and publishing houses. In this period he is contributing to L'Express, Le Figaro Madame, Le Monde, Gallimard. After two years in Paris, he crossed the channel to London where he continued his studies in the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. At that time he started publishing his illustrations on a regular basis in The Times. Izhar currently lives in Florence, Italy. His work has been published in The Sunday Times, The Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian, World of Interiors, Prospects, Metropolitan Home, World Media, Gourmet, Reader's Digest, Scientific American, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine and in many others worldwide.