‘La Pieta’

Local artist CJ Howard, who has traveled the world and learned a wealth of knowledge from other cultures, is currently working on a series from her heart titled “La Pieta” as a way to encourage mothers everywhere. The series is being launched in June.
CJ Howard graduated from East Forsyth High School (EFHS) in 2005. After high school, she traveled to Barnard College in New York to research art further. While she graduated with a degree in contemporary African Art History, Howard is currently on the other side – instead of showing other artists work, she is making her own.
Howard mentioned that she attended Barnard College because it is the best place to research art.
 “The first class I took, I knew it was my calling. I just loved it,” she said, adding that she did her first residency in South America. “That was a really fascinating world, having studied all of these people.”
Howard explained that she studied contemporary African Art History with the hopes that she would spend her career working in an art museum; however, after graduating, the 2008 recession had hit and there were no jobs available.
“I had to rethink my priorities of what I would be doing. That’s how I ended up painting for myself and working on my skills. It gave me something to focus on,” she shared.
After college, Howard moved to Durham and in 2013, she returned to South America, and then traveled to other parts of the world.
“I traveled a lot, especially in 2013. I did a kick starter outside of Cape Town, South Africa and did a lot of projects with daycares. I had always felt a calling to go there and just give back in whatever way I could,” she said as she explained that she wanted to use her skills to engage the community, get to know the people and learn from them. “It was so fulfilling, inspiring and unique.”
Howard said she went to a total of nine countries to work with artists and do community projects with them. She noted that she visited Finland, Germany, Johannesburg in South Africa (second time), Zimbabwe, Dominican Republic, Canada, Mexico, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Howard said she traveled for about two years total.
“It was really surprising how styles of art and methods and techniques were so different, she said as she explained that in Finland it was about documenting places and how the people connected to the land, while in Mexico artists were passionate about teaching literacy through different techniques; and in Beijing, they used art to secretly protest against the Chinese government. “There was such a wide array of how art can be used as a meaningful engagement with the community.”
Howard said she learned so much and took so much from each place she travelled, adding that she still uses some of her photos from her travels as reference paintings.  
“I’ve been trying to figure out how I can make my own art meaningful at home with a toddler,” she said.  
Howard explained that after having her son, Bjorn, 2 ½, she moved back to Kernersville to be closer to her family.
While Howard was mostly interested in art history, she said she has always done a little artwork. She explained that she has little drawings from when she was two and three years old and shared that she has a memory that was brought back up to her by a friend a few months ago from when she was a student at Kernersville Elementary School.
“Apparently, when I was in third or fourth grade, I had designed the cover of that year’s yearbook,” she said. “I didn’t remember doing that.”
In high school, along with taking AP art history classes, Howard also took AP art classes and when she went to college, she enjoyed taking art classes on the side. It was in college when she took her first oil painting class.
Now, that she is working at home with her son, she is learning to incorporate Bjorn into her work.
“I started involving him about a year ago. I would bring him to my studio in Winston-Salem because I didn’t have childcare at the time,” she said, as she explained that he kept entertained, playing with paintbrushes and glue sticks. “It wasn’t until I brought everything to our house that all of the sudden he was involved, and I had to be okay with him contributing to what I was working on – making marks.”
Now, everything that she works on, Howard said Bjorn usually has some of his own touch added, using pastel, oil or crayon, usually at the bottom of the painting.
“He works hard and I feel like it made it a lot easier to work (allowing him to contribute). I feel like it has added a depth to what I’m working on and I don’t feel like I have to focus on what I’m doing,” she said. “But it was harder for me to be okay with what he’s doing. It was a real lesson in not controlling all the outcomes. I feel we all need help with that. I think the unexpected in sometimes more interesting.”  
Howard explained that her works are done with oil paint and she mostly does portraits and figures. She has also started doing some abstract with Bjorn.
“I really hadn’t done much (abstract) beforehand. I would take an old piece that I wasn’t interested in sharing with anyone and let him draw all over it. Then we would cut it into pieces and fill in the areas that were leftover with paint,” she explained. “It created these really beautiful abstract pieces. He created the structures and I just finish them. It was a blast.”
With those pieces, Howard said they put on a little show in Carrboro, which was one of Bjorn’s first art shows, although, he has gone to every one of Howard’s art shows since he was born.
Howard said she enjoys making art because it allows her to feel connected to everyone who has ever existed through time.
“We’ve all desired to create beauty. We all feel this impulse to make the world beautiful and I love that,” she said. “The challenge is not judging yourself for being terrible.”
“Right now, I’m working on a series of seven-foot tall paintings of mothers,” she said as she explained that she is trying to show how powerful mothers are without making them look one dimensional as they often do throughout art history. “Mothers are so much more complex.”
Of all of her work, Howard said her favorite pieces are the ones she is currently working on, which will be launched in June.
 “I think in this time, we are feeling really isolated and we’re not good at parenting or being creative, and I just want to provide a little note that it doesn’t have to look good the way it used to,” she said. “Whatever you’re doing right now is awesome. We are all doing great considering how the world is right now. I feel like other moms need to feel that.”
To see Howard’s upcoming artwork, visit her website www.cjhowardart.com.

Previous post:

Next post: