A Breath of Fresh Air – Michelle René Cobb

By Patricia Andrews-Keenan

What do the award-winning artist and art director, designer, and illustrator Michelle René Cobb have in common with artists Renoir, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, and Georgia O’Keeffe?

She is an ‘en Plein air’ or Plein air painter, literally one who paints outside. This method of creating takes full advantage of changing weather and natural light and the predominant features of these works are their tonal qualities, color, loose brushwork, and softness of form.

Cobb honed her craft under the tutelage of Edward L. Loper, Sr., the renowned Delaware artist who worked, lived, and taught there. Loper worked for the Delaware Works Progress Administration (WPA) and like Cobb after him, was a designer and illustrator whose work was featured in the Index of Modern Design's 2002. Cobb served as a designer and illustrator for over 35 Time-Life books. She later became Art Director for Sports Illustrated magazine.

Cobb, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Communications from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science in Art Education from Skidmore College, is currently Chair of the Studio Art Department at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C. and is an 8 term AP Studio Art Reader.

Of the Harlem Fine Art Show’s 2021 Virtual Art Fair she says, “It was refreshing to be asked to participate because it wasn't the same type of work that a lot of the other artists were doing. Cobb calls her work observational and it is very much driven by locations.

Her residencies have included painting Plein air in France, Spain, Italy, Africa, and Canada. She paints lush, romantic landscapes, vineyards, and tablescapes from across the world. She first exhibited with the Harlem Fine Arts Show in Martha’s Vineyard, and included in her portfolio are the Ocean Park gazebo in Oaks Bluff as well as some of the ‘gingerbread trimmed, ornate, Victorian homes there. Her other favorite locales are Rock Creek Park or Georgetown in her D.C. hometown.

This will be Cobb’s first virtual show and she is excited by the broader, global audience her work will be exposed to. “I’m happy to reach this unlimited audience.”

In reflecting on last summer’s racial reckoning as an educator she says her focus has been on “helping my students understand the situation and helping them interpret the meaning of social justice.” Her virtual teaching duties she says have taken up a tremendous amount of time so she herself has not painted to any great extent but will have some new work in the show.

Of her work she’d like potential buyers to understand the process and how it is literally standing in front of nature with your easel and copying what you see. Also paramount to the process is the blending of paints, abutting each color closely to the next resulting in thousands of brush strokes. Loper, she says, was the biggest influence in her life and she studied with him for 15 years. “There are very few Black artists who work the way I do, and it is due to his tutelage.” She believes that time will see Loper become more widely recognized for his work and career as an artist and educator. Until then you may experience Cobb's work during the HFAS 2021 Virtual Art Fair that runs through July 31.