The Artist Assistant
Behind every great artist there is an assistant.
So begins A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Assistant, an entertaining and instructive essay by Graham T. Beck published at The Brooklyn Rail.1 While the entire piece is worthwhile reading, this excerpt is especially pertinent to our purposes today:
Depending on who you ask, being an artist’s assistant is a lot like being a friend, or a secretary, or a 19th-century factory worker. Wages range from paltry to lawyerly; work spaces from stately to slovenly to simply unsafe. Some spend their days in business-casual and others in coveralls, but what they all share is unfettered access to the personalities and studio workings that others only glean from CVs or biographical blurbs. There are stories of ungainly tantrums, eye-popping extravagance, clichéd eccentricity or profound compassion; these accounts are traded by artist’s assistants like baseball cards or bragged about like battle scars. It would be a gross understatement to say that it’s engaging to talk with assistants about their workdays; it’s often like hearing from a star-struck therapist freed from the binds of doctor-patient confidentiality.
It turns out that Leonard Cohen has an assistant.2 In fact, many readers are aware that Kezban Özcan, who handles – well, anything that needs to be handled, holds that position because a significant portion of her work is interacting with fans.
It was, in fact, Kezban’s performance of a task benefiting this blogger3 that first triggered the thought, What would it be like to be Leonard Cohen’s artist assistant? Given that I have identified myself as a blogger, it is, of course, a redundancy to note that my next immediate thought was Can I make a post out of that?
It has required some time to transform that nascent notion into the post before you now,4 but the final product proves worth the wait.
Born and raised in Istanbul, Kezban came to the US eleven years ago. She has a younger sister and brother, Elif and Yasin, respectively. Her parents ran a catering business, but, as she explains, “My dad has recently retired, and they are out and about having finally some fun now.” She is, in her words, “single and available.”
The Old Ideas Album Cover Photo
Q: When and where was photo on the album cover taken?
KO: In front of his house, in Los Angeles, around March 2011.
Q: How did photo get taken?
KO: I take pictures of him and his family on an almost daily basis and show them to him. He just liked this particular one and decided to use it for his album cover.
Being Leonard Cohen’s Assistant
- Beck’s essay deals with artists who work in the visual arts, such as painters and sculptors, but the content also seems apposite to those in the performing arts. [↩]
- Kezban is officially Leonard Cohen’s artist assistant – aka administrative assistant, aka personal assistant, aka celebrity personal assistant, personal assistant to recording artist, and many other titles (eHow offers advice for those interested in such a position at How to Find Celebrity Personal Assistant Jobs) [↩]
- That task involved Kezban and the Duchess colluding to present me with items autographed by Leonard Cohen as wedding gifts. See Thank You Leonard Cohen and Duchess Of Durham For The Wedding Gifts. [↩]
- To put it bluntly, the responsibility for the delays lays at the feet of Mr Cohen, who inexplicably determined that his assistant’s priorities over the past month were those jobs associated with the release of his Old Ideas album rather than her working on this post for me [↩]