Our PBAA featured guest artist for July is the mother of member Terri Hagstrom, the late Lois Green Cohen, Lois is a long and illustrious career as a fine artist, a designer and illustrator working in the movie industry, and later, as a painter of the universe for the Griffith Observatory.
Though born in Chicago in 1919, Lois grew up in Pittsburgh, where she attended art school at Carnegie Tech and also discovered a love for illustrating decaying buildings while attending nearby summer art colonies. So, when she was not working as a fashion illustrator, instead of painting bucolic natural scenes, Lois focused on old shacks and factories.
This love for painting old rundown structures continued when Lois moved to California in 1939, along with her studies in magazine illustration, life drawing, and composition at the revered Chouinard Art Institute.
Lois’s paintings of decaying buildings and harbors, now considered part of the California Regionalist movement, earned them a reputation as the “kiss of death,” as many structures that she painted were shortly demolished. But, in spite of that label, Lois had several shows at galleries and museums in Southern California, including at the Hilda Swarthe Gallery in Beverly Hills.
Then in 1943, Lois was hired by MGM to work on the musicals The Ziegfield Follies and An American in Paris, and a whole new career began. This included work for Columbia Studios and later, RKO, to work as an illustrator and production designer for Around the World in 80 Days.
Lois’s long list of film credits also includes Fate is the Hunter, The Lost World, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants.
Then in 1973, Lois’s career really took off, not just into the stratosphere, but out into the cosmos, as a designer and painter of the universe projected on the Griffith Observatory’s planetarium dome. At the same time, Lois continued perfecting her fine art with studies in colored etching, wood block and mono printing, and with shows at galleries from La Jolla to Carmel.
In discussing her work, Lois once commented, “I try to be alone. I never liked group painting because I don’t like distractions. For me painting is a form of meditation, almost a Zen thing. I don’t really think up ideas. Usually, it’s something I feel, a surge to paint—animals, pretty places, the human body.”
Lois Cohen continued to paint, attend art workshops and exhibit her work into her 90s. She was nearly 93 when she died in 2012.