LET THE LIGHT SHINE THROUGH

BY EMMA BURLEIGH

Thomas Merton, a renowned monk, writer, theologian and social activist, once said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” This is the philosophy by which CJ Cowden meticulously Photograph by Holger Obenaus and uniquely conducts her craft. Through mixed media paintings of different textures, subjects and colors, Cowden has discovered a method of both finding and losing herself in her work that speaks volumes for her uniqueness as an artist.

Cowden begins each of her pieces with research, attributing ambiguity to what allows her to fully understand her craft and, in turn, reach the best results. She works consistently every day, allowing a constant flow of creativity to run from her to her work. When it comes to the finality of a piece, Cowden explains that there is no “real” way to determine when a piece is completed. “I truly think a piece is finished when it speaks to someone else,” she remarks.

Allowing for flexibility like this emphasizes the fluidity of each of Cowden’s pieces, which is evident in the layered and changing textures of each of her designs.

Cowden’s breakthrough into the art field relied greatly on her ability to find her niche among countless other abstract artists. In finding her place in the art world, Cowden found that all she needed was her skill to connect to the elements around her. “My focus and inspiration are creativity and the capacity to make connections in an abstract way with the world around us, using light, shadows, color and movement,” Cowden marvels. She also knew that to be a successful artist she would need to find the vulnerability to allow herself to shine through her work. “I paint from the heart, quickly letting the natural me come out,” she explains.

Never being afraid to try 170 DSD new things or branch out in a different direction has greatly helped to advance Cowden’s career and aid her in reaching success. “I have a hunger for knowledge; I’m always learning new techniques and exploring ideas,” she says.

These great successes include being recognized by galleries all across the country. Cowden exhibits in the Frisco Fine Art Gallery and the Serendipity Labs Gallery in Frisco. She has also won first place in a juried show of the Texas Visual Arts Association. The artwork that won was a touching piece titled The Light from Within, which featured “a life-size representation of the soul that we all have inside of us, the part of us that is left after our body dies,” says Cowden.

Although her successes are plentiful, Cowden still attributes seeing people’s reactions to her work as her favorite aspect of being an artist. An especially rewarding reaction came from her piece The Light Is Always on Its Way, which was painted for a friend who was having a “disagreement” with cancer. “Publicly I have received more praise than I can count, and to this day the friend who I created it for still tells me how much of an inspiration it was to him,” Cowden says with a smile.

Although all artists will inevitably have bad days, Cowden holds herself to a standard of never letting these days get in the way of her success as an artist. To fight these trying times, Cowden relies on activities directed at getting her creative wheels spinning again, such as mindlessly layering mixed media on a blank surface. This further demonstrates Cowden’s diligence and the special care that she has for her work, which is reflected in each of her pieces. Cowden’s unique ability to show herself through her work while also letting it tell a story has given her an unparalleled edge in her career. Her vulnerability has certainly paid off and given her a myriad of directions where she can next take her artwork. “Painting and creating give me a sense of freedom,” she explains. “I have no one to answer to but myself.”

Emma Burleigh is a part-time freelance writer living in College Station, Texas.