- Find a day job. If you have a trust fund, that’s great!
On a recent Friday afternoon, Dorothy Cochran—New Jerseyite, artist, septuagenarian, self-described pied piper—was walking through the Montclair Art Museum, where she has been teaching a weekly printmaking class since 2010. She was dressed in black, and wore purple octagonal spectacles. Stopping in front of ‘Sea at Biarritz,’ a 1964 painting by the Abstract Expressionist, Robert Motherwell, she whispered, “I knew him. He lived in Provincetown. I used to see him in the supermarket all the time!”
She moved to George Innes’ ‘Winter Moonlight’ next. Reading the description, she perked up at the mention of Emanuel Swedenborg, a mystic whose ideas she has studied. She also likes reading about quantum theory. (Black holes, she says, drive her crazy.) Before Montclair, Cochran curated artwork at the Rockefeller-owned Interchurch Center for twenty-three years. Her own prints have been exhibited in numerous East Coast galleries, from Hackensack, NJ, to North Truro, Massachusetts. She was born to working class parents of “very good genetic stock” (German, Hungarian, Scottish, Dutch.) After obtaining two degrees from Montclair University, she returned to graduate school at Columbia for an MFA in the eighties, when her two daughters were preteens.
- Find a mate, a partner, who is going to be very supportive.
Cochran has been married to her high school sweetheart, Ray—Vietnam War veteran, former Director of Internal Audit at Columbia—for fifty-one years: “We’ve grown up together, so I know he’s supportive. I wouldn’t be with him if he wasn’t!” Last August, before their annual vacation to Provincetown, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The first two CAT scans after his chemotherapy came out clean, and they were now waiting for the third.
- Have a couple of kids.
Outside the museum, Cochran put a pair of dark sunglasses on and unlocked her Volvo. The beige leather interior had baked in the sun. A Fairway Supermarket receipt for Erath Winery’s Pinot Noir ($15.99) lay in a corner of the passenger seat’s storage compartment, forgotten. Passing by a large Victorian-style house, Cochran remarked that it wasn’t as big as the home she owned in Ridgewood (“Very WASPY,”) from which she and Ray downsized three years ago. “When you get older, you don’t want to take care of the grass, you don’t want to deal with the snow,” she explained. “And my husband’s really not capable of doing all of that stuff now. He’s not as strong as I am, unfortunately.” Her voice shook: “But we’re very, very grateful that he’s still alive. My doctor-daughter was beside herself. She helped us so much.”
At a signal near the Montclair University campus, a Nissan Maxima cut her off. “Whoops! What the—nice. Okay. And baby on board!” Cochran sighed. “I usually curse at people like that, sorry!” She giggled. “People drive the way they live.”
- Don’t marry another artist. It sets up competition.
A few minutes later, Cochran arrived at the Four Seasons at Great Notch, a townhouse complex built in the middle of what was once a mountain quarry. The gated community caters to the 55-and-over demographic. She and Ray live in a bungalow that is easier for him to navigate than the multi-storied Ridgewood house. He sometimes wobbles when he walks, on account of his neuropathy.
Cochran parked in the driveway and entered the garage, half of which is her studio. It is occupied by a $16,000 Charles Brand etching press, and other instruments, including a stainless steel hotbox that she uses when painting with wax. Everything was in meticulous order. “Here’s my baby. She weighs 2000 pounds!” Cochran said breathlessly, pointing to the press.
These days, she is working on a series of prints inspired by wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic tradition tied to the themes of impermanence and suffering. The collection is, in her view, very philosophical. “I love the idea of impermanence. So, like, death or destruction,” she said. For the series, she used handmade paper manufactured by the Awagami Factory in Tokushima. The prints themselves are black and white patterns, hidden behind a translucent layer of the paper, and exposed via a circular cut in the center. The notion is to suggest a state of ephemerality.
Inside, Ray stood behind the kitchen counter. He is a slight man, with bluish eyes and a Chevron moustache. He had prepared snacks: bagels, fruit, iced tea.
“Hello! Hi, honey. We’re finally here!” she said. “We’re hungry. Dorothy was talking too much, as usual.” She helped set the table and poured him a glass of iced tea.
Ray: My voice is terrible. Doesn’t sound right today.
Dorothy: It may just be allergies. Terrible!
Ray: I got an appointment with the throat guy.
Dorothy: Don’t talk!
After a moment, she handed him a napkin and pointed to his nose, where a smidge of cream cheese had settled on his nostril. “Fix your—fix your—yeah,” she said, satisfied as he dabbed.