Artist profile: Catherine Howard

by Keith Barber

“Veil Tease” from Bodyatrocity, created on a 7-foot long fabric scroll. (courtesy photo)

 While attending Barnard College, a liberal arts college for women in New York City on Columbia’s campus, artist Catherine Howard immersed herself in the feminist art world. That’s when she began to develop her own unique artistic style.

“I’ve pretty much always used charcoal and oil paint and some combination of the two, Howard said. “With my early work, I was trying to figure out my personal style and sometimes it was hard to figure out how I particularly felt because I was influenced by the style of others.”

In the end, Howard, a Kernersville native, realized she had a lot to say about the female experience and her artwork is a reflection of her thoughts on what it means to be a woman.

“I have no problem being called a ‘feminist artist,’” she said. “I’m passionate about issues that affect women.”

Howard is currently working on a series of 7-foot scrolls designed to hang in windows to utilize light as a key element.

“I’ve created images of dancers and performances,” Howard said.

“The light becomes an active part of the work. It’s about inner illumination and vulnerability and how we show ourselves through our bodies.”

Howard credits her parents with fostering her early interest in drawing. “They were always supportive of me being creative,” she said. “They taught me that being an artist was a valid profession, which is something a lot of artists struggle with.”

Howard described the style of her early work as representational, but her style has evolved over time.

“I’ve always enjoyed figurative work but my style has become more abstract and more surreal since I graduated from college,” she said.

In her recent piece “Veil Tease,” Howard used oil and graphite on fabric to create a colorful abstract work, while her Bodyatrocity series has a definite surreal quality.

All of Howard’s work is a product of her very personalrtistic process. “My normal routine is I keep a sketchbook with me at all times, even when I’m at work,” she said. “I can sketch ideas. When I get in a rut and can’t think of ideas, I either travel or go to the library and read a lot until something sparks.”

Howard returned to the Piedmont Triad after graduating from Barnard in December 2008. Last year, she accepted a position as artist services manager for the Durham Arts Council.

“It’s always really difficult to try to balance making enough money to get by and still be creative and passionate about your art,” she said. “I’ve always found it difficult to incorporate creativity into my day job.”

Howard said her goals have shifted from pursuing a career as a gallery curator to being a full-time working artist. However, she plans on going back to school to obtain her Master of Fine Arts degree so that one day, she can teach young aspiring artists like herself.

Howard recently organized a group of Durham artists who meet regularly to offer constructive criticism to one another.

“You have to be proactive about getting critical feedback because that’s something that people aren’t comfortable talking about,” she said.

The best feedback, however, has come in the form of heart-to-heart talks with arts patrons at her gallery shows. Howard’s work touches on women’s issues such as domestic violence and eating disorders and she’s found that visual art is a great way to break people’s resistance to discussing subjects that can be very personal and sometimes painful.

“That’s the biggest reward for me — having a very intimate connection with a person that I would have never met before,” Howard said. “That’s the goal of my work — creating those connections between people.”

For further info: Check out Catherine Howard’s website at