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The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Q&A: Candy Cougar on vanity, hair dye, Arctic Monkeys

Heather Bennett, owner of Candy Cougar Art, displaying her unconventional painting style during the monthly Mixed Media Mixer on Nov. 2 at 1078 Gallery. Photo credit: Chelsea Jeffers

Heather Bennett, also known as Candy Cougar, took The Orion on a tour of her studio Friday and discussed creating with unconventional materials, why she uses them and what inspires her. Her art will be featured Dec. 7 at 1078 Gallery’s next Mixed Media Mixer.

When did you become a professional artist?

About two years ago I started painting, and I absolutely went wild for it and I changed everything. I changed my (early childhood education) major. I just immediately went hardcore for painting and never looked back. I am almost finished getting my art studio degree at Butte (College), and then I’ll go to Chico State to take more art classes. I just love art so much and want to learn as much as I can about it.

You are known for using some unconventional materials to create your pieces. Do you ever use paint?

I use acrylic paint, that’s how I started. But there is no piece I made that is made with just one thing. I love to mix. In every piece, though, there is eye shadow. I use it extensively for all the shading. I also use a bunch of charcoal, tea, wine — just about anything that will give me the effect I want, I will put on the canvas. The goal, the challenge for me, is to keep it pure by not using any paint. I mix random things like hair dye and food color and let it pool up on a canvas, and it is always something different. I love that I can’t duplicate things exactly. I also like the different smells of the materials I use and mix.

Candy Cougar Art studio
One wall of Candy Cougar's art at her studio. She says she has her own story for each piece but likes to leave them up to viewer interpretation. Photo credit: Jeffrey Fox

Why do you create this way?

It’s interesting because how I paint has revealed a lot about myself. I have always been concerned with gender norms in the idea of vanity. It is fascinating and frustrating to me at the same time. I think that is why I was drawn to use a lot of beauty products in my art. It’s like modeling and glamour is like a mockery, yet I can’t help to be drawn to it. That’s why I paint a lot of pretty women. I am a tomboy, but extreme femininity is interesting to me. I don’t like to obey gender norms, so that notion kind of disgusts me and also intrigues me.

Do your pieces have a story?

I have my own story for them and name them, but also I leave out just enough so people can create their own story by interpreting each piece the way they want to. I like to keep them ambiguous.

What has inspired your passion for art and the pieces you do?

I’m very inspired by nerd culture. I love retro video games, I love comics and am super inspired by comic art. I love pop art. I love bright, colorful stuff and dramatic imagery, which is kind of my handle. I love the idea of there being a clear and identifiable image but without providing all of the details. I am also heavily inspired by music and paint what I feel while I listen to music. This piece here that looks upside-down was painted using the lyrics to an Arctic Monkeys song. It was fun and challenging trying to put all the lyrics into it, but I want to do that more in the future.

Candy Cougar Art
Candy Cougar uses eye shadow, charcoal, tea, wine and other unconventional materials to create her artwork. This central piece was inspired by the lyrics of an Arctic Monkeys song. Photo credit: Jeffrey Fox

What bands or musicians do you like to listen to while you create?

I have made every piece to music. I really like turning up soulful music, jazz, indie, electronic. I remember what I was listening to with each and every one of these pieces. I like Arctic Monkeys, Black Keys, Kimbra, Wild Belle, Marina and the Diamonds; just a ton of stuff.

What do you typically charge for your pieces?

Standard for 16×20 is $60, and I am totally fine with doing payments. I’ve been told I notoriously undercharge, and that’s because a lot of people can’t really afford art. It is an extra thing and not something you need. It feels so amazing when somebody wants something you made, and I want them to have it when it is something they love and or has meaning to them.

Jeffrey Fox can be reached at [email protected] or @FoxyJeff on Twitter.

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