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.
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.
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.