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Meet Steve Cohen: Billy Joel’s lighting director and painter (Includes interview)

Cohen is one of the most successful lighting designers in music, who has worked extensively with Billy Joel, and John Mellencamp, among countless other artists. “I started working for Billy Joel back in 1974, and I started lighting his shows when we were playing colleges. That was early on in the touring industry when the tools were very primitive,” he said. “I enjoy putting people’s eyes where I want them to, and creating a beautiful composition around it.”

He praised the “Piano Man” for being an efficient collaborator for over four decades. “We have worked so closely together,” he admitted.

In addition, Cohen is an accomplished artist, who had a successful exhibit in the Hamptons. This week, he debuts his paintings at the 14th edition of Aqua Art Miami, named “Best Art Fair” in the “2018 Best of Miami,” which was published by Miami News Times. The exhibit will include a collection of Cohen’s latest paintings, which are available for viewing from December 5 to 9 during the Art Basel Miami Beach fair.

On his art gallery in Miami, Cohen said, “It’s great, and so far the response has been amazing. It has been really exciting. The Aqua Art Miami fair is very casual and we have an incredible space where you can walk around and observe not only my paintings and assemblies, but other pieces of work such as my husband’s ceramics and jewelry. We are showing them together in this space. It is really exciting.”

Cohen acknowledged that the jump from being a graphic artist to a painter is not “that big of a reach” for him. “I am always looking for the emotional impact and the way that color plays and the way that shadows and light play,” he said.

For anybody who wants to pursue a career in the creative world, he said, “Follow your emotional instincts and do what your passion tells you to do. Don’t beat yourself up to be perfect. Some of the imperfection in art makes it great, and embracing that imperfection is the thing that makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.”

Digital transformation of lighting

On the impact of technology on the lighting business, Cohen said, “Technology has grown in the lighting industry because the tools have taken advantage of computer technology and refined optics, and it has given me a set of much more sophisticated paints to paint with when I do lighting. Technology has driven a lot of the creativity with the lighting.”

Regarding his use of technology in his daily routine, Cohen said, “I am attached to my phone. I am also attached to the computer graphic programs, where I design my shows. I do have a series of work that involves technology entirely such as combination photos that are pressed together in the Photoshop program and become another thing.”

To learn more about Steve Cohen’s The Parsons Close Project, check out its official website.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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