"Stay in the moment experience it with all your senses. When picking up a tool to create allow your pen, brush, key on the computer, strings, wind, and percussion go in unexpected ways."
Ann Cohen: I Do See You (in San Francisco)
Counterculture activist and painter Ann Cohen says: "I have the passion of the pen to draw the moment. I started drawing music and people around the Bay Area in the late eighties. Thousands of local and well-known bands in around San Francisco, California, along the coast to British Columbia and over to Europe in Berlin, Paris and beyond have been caught by my pen. I take a moment to hear the music dance through me while the hand goes to the paper and logs the moment. Always on the hunt for the next draw in restaurant café or just where I am. My late husband, Allen Cohen, was a well-known poet and the editor, founder of the San Francisco Oracle. I illustrated two of Allen's books of poems: The Book of Hats and Like a Radiant White Dove both published by Regent Press. My work is in many private collections and has appeared in Beatitude Magazine, Relix Magazine and Split Shift and in various CD's of the musician's that I have drawn." The Oracle of the City of San Francisco, also known as the San Francisco Oracle, was an underground newspaper published in 12 issues from September 20, 1966, to February 1968 in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of that city. Allen Cohen (1940–2004), the editor during the paper's most vibrant period, and Michael Bowen, the art director, were among the founders of the publication. The Oracle was an early member of the Underground Press Syndicate. The Oracle combined poetry, spirituality, and multicultural interests with psychedelic design, reflecting and shaping the countercultural community as it developed in the Haight-Ashbury. (Ann Cohen / Photo © by Anya Milano)
Oracle contributors included many significant San Francisco–area artists of the time, including Bruce Conner and Rick Griffin. It featured such beat writers as Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure. Allen moved to San Francisco in search of the remnants of the Beat Generation. He first lived in North Beach and then moved to the Haight Ashbury, at the time a working class neighborhood in the west side of San Francisco. Soon, the Haight Ashbury became a flourishing bohemia and Allen was one of the key personalities. Allen Cohen had a dream that there was a newspaper being read all over the world with rainbows. Pursuing his commitment to spread poetic messages of love and hope among all mankind, the small-stature poet founded and edited the famed San Francisco Oracle, the Haight-Ashbury’s counterculture newspaper that was one of the major vehicles in forming the 60’s throughout the world. After Allen’s death his wife Ann Cohen with friends published Like a Radiant White Dove. Allen Cohen passed away in his Walnut Creek home with his family by his side April 29 2004. This world was a much better place with Allen being part of our world community. Ann Cohen published series of her books called, I Do See You. Ann says: "The first drawing published in this book was January 2020. Life was filled with adventure. I draw nearly every day. I organize my drawings by calendar date and file in thick folders that I make. These drawings are an accurate log created with pen, paint, papers, and musings of my life in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area."
Interview by Michael Limnios Archive: Ann Cohen, 2016 interview
How has the beat and the counterculture influenced your view of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
In the 60’s the passion for not having the government tell our youths that they had to go to war started a revolution that led us to listen to our inner self what is best.
How do you describe your artwork’s philosophy?
Drawing of the moment. I am jamming with life.
Where does your creative drive come from?
My mother and the women in my ancestry were artist. Painting with watercolors in my early twenties I remember licking my brush to get a sharp point and suddenly visualizing my grandmother licking her brush while painting. She stayed a few days in my room when she visited us. That piece I painted was an artistic memory with my grandmother.
"Very few women artist was recognized in the 60’s movement. The “the old ladies’ held it down while the guys did the art, music wherever their trade was. Woman raised our babies with creative harmony in the home. As an artist my pen is my best friend, and it is fun to share." (Ann Cohen / Photo © by Ting Vogel)
Why do you think that Allen Cohen, “Haight Ashbury era” and the Beat generation continues to generate such a devoted following?
The 60’s gave us the freedom to express ourselves. The music we generated in San Francisco is like no other before or since. The artist styles that Anton Kelly, Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse and so many more including underground newspapers artist like the Oracle staff, jammed with the writings like never before.
What moment changed your life the most? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
When I was 22, I became a widow. It changed everything. After rushing home from work to start dinner and then remembering he was gone then slowing down every night for 6 months I quit my job, rented out my house and hitchhiked around the country with a quest. I knew there was good in everyone, it is feeling another’s being without judgement just let it roll. There are a few stories that go with that journey. I love all faiths and people and except them just the way they are for that is exciting about life. Looks what happens when there is an emergency neighbors help from their heart. Best advice given to me: Listen!
Are there any memories from The Human Be-In in 1967 which you’d like to share with us?
My late husband Allen Cohen and Michael Bowen were instrumental making the Be-In happen. Reaching out to the Barb and the antiwar leaders conjured up and had the world’s attention to make peace not war. Through a series of pow wows at Michaels pad in the Haight to unite both entities, brought on large media events to end the war. The first outside large music concert happened and many marches leading up to The Be-In. We could say conflict resolution with the activist and hippies brought the gathering of all the tribes for peace. Now, what was I doing? In the 60’s I finished high school, got a job as a hairdresser, got married and spent most of my time with my husband backpacking and canoeing and protesting the war locally. My husband Ron was a postal worker going to college to become an architect. So, the answer is no because I was not at the Be-In January 14, 1967, in the Polo Fields of Golden Gate Park.
"In the 60’s the passion for not having the government tell our youths that they had to go to war started a revolution that led us to listen to our inner self what is best." (Ann Cohen with founder of the San Francisco Oracle, Allen Cohen [Photo Courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle] / Ann Cohen's book, I Do See You Three)
What is the impact of the 60’s counterculture on literary traditions and music? How do you want their art to affect people?
We need to express our own way. Michael McClure when he spoke his written word it was his own spoken melody with rhythm. Beats brought instruments to the poet’s spoken word. The 60’s explosion to blend psychedelic feelings translated into musicians’ strings, electrified all other parts of the music revolution. The counterculture brought tweaking sounds to get exactly what the musicians wanted to express, electrified. Today the same holds true Express your passion that made you pick up a tool and be the image or sound you are creating.
The meeting place for all ages who are wild at heart, and favorite among hipsters, San Francisco is ahead of its time as it embraces. Why is the city a mecca for avant-garde people?
We are a very big Muse community, and we help each other. From my perspective it would be North Beach and Grant Avenue. It was one of the National spots where the Beats gravitated for Literary, musically and the spoken word. For me I feel comfortable sitting somewhere and drawing as long as I want. North Beach is a community that is accepting of people and their quirks that make them. Living in North Beach and logging the moments on Grant Avenue has brought me a published series called, I Do See You. A collection by the date drawn while sitting in Caffe Trieste and many other people stops and eateries, plus local music like The Saloon. I added a short story about each image. Why is San Francisco still the mecca because our past innovative reputation brings people that are exceptional in their passion for creating the new and experimental.
What are some of the important lessons you have learned from your experience in the 60’s counterculture?
Stay in the moment experience it with all your senses. When picking up a tool to create allow your pen, brush, key on the computer, strings, wind, and percussion go in unexpected ways.
What does to be a female artist/activist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What was the stature of women in the 60’s?
Very few women artist was recognized in the 60’s movement. The “the old ladies’ held it down while the guys did the art, music wherever their trade was. Woman raised our babies with creative harmony in the home. As an artist my pen is my best friend, and it is fun to share.
(Artwork © by Ann Cohen / Caffe Trieste 8/9/2023)
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