Yves Cohen, a beautifully modern archetype of a talented, multicultural, renaissance man, practices multiple professions quite naturally. Born into the merchant class of Algeria to French parents, his grandmother was a singer in both Arabic and French while his uncle Jean was a professor of philosophy and languages at the Sorbonne in Paris. Yves speaks Arabic, Hebrew, French and Spanish (his nanny was from Madrid) and as a child he was exposed to politics, culture, art and music while living in a family compound. The family’s ancestors migrated to Algeria from Jerusalem after the second burning of the temple in 70 AD.
When Algeria obtained its independence in 1962, Yves’ family relocated to Paris due to persecution. In Paris his uncle Jean placed him in the Academie Julian where he studied art. From there he became an artist at the Louvre Museum, in the mornings for two years, where he studied all aspects of art from primitive to modern. He next attended the Parisian Beaux Arts School for four years. Upon graduation, in 1967, Yves travelled to Afghanistan where he studied Tibetan art and throughout India, where he studied Hindi art. He also has had a long love affair with boats.
"I wanted to learn about sailing and boats so in 1973 I moved to Iles des Saintes, a small island just south of Guadeloupe. A local fisherman gave me a 20’ Saintoise boat which originates in Brittany and was modified in the Caribbean by local French sailors – it had beautiful lines, was made of mahogany and needed some work. I kept the original name, Revenant, which in French means Ghost. I changed one board and reinforced two or three ribs, cut a tree from the hills for the boom, and made a long bowsprit from a piece of bamboo I found on the beach.
“A friend helped me to sew cotton sails by hand and then tan them with red clay and linseed oil. Soon we were out on the water sailing in this graceful craft during the day, and at night fishing for Red Snapper. Revenant also became a sailing cargo ship that I sailed back and forth in the night collecting wood and copper from old wrecked ships and houses on the other small islands.
“To make money I began selling a few water colors to the rare tourist. One day I was walking in the middle of the main street of Terre De Haut when a local construction worker called to me from the shade of an old house made of stone and wood. ‘Why don’t you take this place, Pourquoi pas?’ The house had been built in the seventeenth century by an Englishmen before the islands became French. Of course I took it and began removing tons of garbage from the garden – I discovered a well and a brick oven and knew I had a gem.
“I became a builder and reconstructed this building to be my present home and shop which is named, Maogany an Indian word for mahogany, the beautiful tree that produces a strong red wood used for boat building. With the help of local girls, who I put to work sewing, and my wife who styled and modeled, I created a few hundred shirts that I painted by hand, one by one – sailboats, coconuts, Caribbean blues and jumping snappers.”
The shirts sold well and the business continued to grow; in 1988 Yves opened a factory in Brazil to increase production where he continues to create unique, very light, tropical yacht and cruise wear in a relaxed travel style full of colors. His clothing is made of long fiber Brazilian cotton and is completely washable.
“The reflection of the sea, in all of its colors, greatly influences my painting. I specialize in Caribbean blue, a cross between azure blue, cobalt blue and turquoise, which is my trademark.” This multitalented and multiskilled artist certainly fits my concept of a modern renaissance man. Yves can be reached at [email protected]
Nancy Terrell is a freelance writer who has lived in the Caribbean for 21 years. She holds an MA Degree in Literature and is currently cruising on her trawler, Swan Song, throughout the Caribbean.