Steve Cohen will receive a Live Design Award for sustained achievement in lighting and production design for Billy Joel, culminating in the Madison Square Garden residency. Designing for Joel—and going on the road with the ultimate Piano Man for the past 40 years—Cohen started out as lighting designer and eventually took on the scenic and video design, becoming the overall creative director for the tours. The award will be presented by scenic designer David Korins at the awards ceremony at NYU on Thursday evening, June 4 as part of the Live Design New York Master Classes.
Live Design: Who have been your biggest influences and why?
Steve Cohen: I am influenced by just about everything. Art, film, nature, architecture. So much around me supports and inspires my work: Pollack, Wright, Kandinsky, Gordon Willis, Orson Wells. I love Dickinson’s and Branton’s work and have learned a lot from them. [Marc] Brickman always makes me take notice, and these days, just watching the world go by wherever I am is constant inspiration for my work.
LD: What would you say is your biggest achievement thus far?
SC: Getting up, and going to work. It's always a challenge and when I get done with anything I think that's my biggest achievement. Projects are like food: I seem to like the last one the best.
LD: What is your favorite production and why?
SC: This last Lenny Kravitz show was my most recent favorite. Kinetic lighting sculpture, mixed with a true visual artist was great.
LD: How did you get into this industry?
SC: I started a lighting company when I was 20 years old (40 years ago). My first clients were Billy Joel and Earth Wind and Fire.
LD: What is your favorite thing about your work as a designer?
SC: Building something from a napkin sketch, then lighting it, and discovering things I never anticipated.
LD: What's your favorite piece of gear/software/gadget right now, and why?
SC: I am gadget impaired :)
LD: How do you approach a new project in terms of research and design intent?
SC: Multiple ways—mostly my first impression of the idea, which is always where I end up.
LD: What advice would you give to young designers just entering the business?
SC: Pay attention, be curious, act cool, charm everyone you meet. You may have talent, but you need to play those cards close to the vest because, as a newcomer, your ideas might be great, but it's all about relationships that will move your career forward.