Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Julie Cowan explores beauty, experimentation in latest exhibit

Photo Courtesy of Julie Cowan
Julie Cowan’s “Translucent Botanicals + Transparent Architecture” is displayed at Vivid Art Gallery in Winnetka through April.

Evanston artist Julie Cowan said her most recent exhibit embraces a simpler purpose of art: beauty.

“I’m very interested in art offering people some kind of respite into beauty,” Cowan said. “I used to think that was a weak reason, but I think that to have something hang on your wall that brings you peace and that you love to look at is a benefit.”

Cowan’s exhibit “Translucent Botanicals + Transparent Architecture” is on display at Vivid Art Gallery in Winnetka through the end of April. The show features lithographs, a form of printing, layered with watercolor and colored pencil.

Cowan said much of her recent work centers around political themes, but for this exhibit, she chose to focus on creating art that appeals to the eye.

“It’s hard to get talked about unless there is something that goes beyond the beauty, but when I started doing these watercolors, I thought that the subtleties of the colors (were) really pleasing,” she said.

Cowan has been creating lithographs for 15 years, but only began experimenting with adding watercolor last year, she said.

Owner of Vivid Art Gallery Cynthia Burr said that, after knowing Cowan for over seven years, it was exciting to see her experiment with new methods. She added that visitors have seemed to enjoy Cowan’s work, with many spending long periods of time looking at each piece.

“When you have something that’s more abstract, people have to look more closely,” she said. “They have to process what it is they’re looking at.”

Cowan said research often acts as a “stimulant” to her creative process. In 2022, Cowan participated in an online residency through the University of Illinois Springfield during which time she researched and created a piece reflecting on Abraham Lincoln’s multidimensional legacy.

While preparing “Translucent Botanicals + Transparent Architecture,” Cowan said she researched the history, social context and structural differences of greenhouses.

Beyond her own work, Cowan is also involved in Evanston’s art community. Since 2011, she has hosted artruck, a showcase that gives local artists the opportunity to display their pieces for one another in a makeshift gallery formed by rented moving trucks.

Darren Oberto said he has participated in several artruck events after meeting Cowan when she showed work in his gallery, Alley Gallery. He said artruck’s unique space turns the gallery into an “adventure,” which makes artists more comfortable sharing their work.

“It brings down the loftiness of the art-viewing experience,” he added.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Cowan has also facilitated artruckish, a virtual gallery where artists are given prompts to inspire their work. The 2024 artruckish gallery, aptly called “Connected by a Thread,” required participants to incorporate a string connected to a piece of paper.

Graphic designer Abby McLean, who has contributed to several artruckish galleries and an in-person artruck in 2019, said she appreciated being given prompts that encouraged her to get outside of her comfort zone.

“You don’t have to be a super accomplished artist,” she said. “It really makes you feel comfortable sharing your work and making it more about community.”

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