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Painter selects cows as newest medium

By Justin Reedy

Cathy Brown often paints pictures of animals, but this time she actually painted on an animal.

Not a real animal, mind you, but a life-size fiberglass cow.

The Forest Park painter was one of dozens of local artists who is taking part in CowParade Atlanta, a public art exhibit and fund-raiser in which more than 150 of the faux cows are decorated, displayed and later auctioned off for charity.

Brown, 55, found out about the event through Arts Clayton, a Jonesboro-based art gallery where she volunteers and displays her work. She submitted two designs for the initial round of the event, putting her up against more than 500 other original designs by Atlanta-area artists.

One of Brown's designs n Bluecowlic, a deep blue cow with pastoral landscapes painted all over it n was selected for the event, giving her the green light to pick up the plain, white fiberglass cow and get started painting it. She called it "Bessie" during the many hours she was working on it.

"I may have called it a few other names, too, but I can't say those," Brown recalls with a laugh.

But now her painted cow has been completed, and stands idly by in a warehouse in College Park with dozens of other such cows, waiting for the cattle drive to Centennial Olympic Park next week for CowParade Atlanta's kick-off event.

"Bluecowlic" n whose name is a play on the word bucolic n has a large landscape painting on either side of its body, one with a stream running past a willow tree and the other with a birds taking flight over a lake. It has smaller landscapes tucked away in its ears, reflected in its eyes and hidden under its neck, as well as painted pine cones and sunflowers on its legs and hindquarters.

"I tried to pick scenes you might find around Georgia," Brown explained. "There's a marsh scene in one ear, for instance, and a mountain scene in the other."

The soothing scenes of Brown's cow stand in sharp contrast to some of its colleagues in the CowParade Atlanta. One cow has dozens of Hot Wheels cars glued to its surface in a mock traffic jam, while another is wearing platform shoes, sunglasses and a hat in an homage to part-time Atlanta resident Elton John. But that doesn't bother Brown, who thinks "Bluecowlic" will offer a nice respite from some of the more avant garde cow designs.

"It's one of my beliefs that art doesn't have to be shocking to be good," she said. "A pleasant picture can be good art, too."

The longtime Forest Park resident has been painting for nearly 20 years, splitting her time between landscapes, still life paintings and portraits of people's pets. Landscapes, of course, are her favorite, making that a natural choice for her cow design.

Most of her landscape paintings are based on places that Brown has been, though they're usually reconstituted from pictures she takes during her visit. Sometimes the final result isn't a view she actually saw, but a combination of several views.

"I'll take lots and lots of pictures for reference," Brown explained. "I might take the water from one, the sky from another, a tree from another. Very seldom does one photo work by itself."

Painting the cow was a change for Brown in many ways n for one, she doesn't usually paint on the sides of farm animals, real or fiberglass. She also had to paint with acrylics instead of her normal pastels. Brown is pleased with the final results, but like any artist she sees room for improvement.

"I don't think anyone is every completely satisfied with any painting they do," she said. "That's what we try and do each time is get a little better each time. We're our own worst critics sometimes."

Though Brown doesn't earn her living by painting, she hopes to work on her art career more when she can retire in a year and a half from her job with ABF, a trucking company.

"I'm looking forward to my retirement next spring," she said. "I'm counting the months until I can paint full time."

Until then, Brown is happy using her free time to paint and volunteer with Arts Clayton, which, in addition to operating its Jonesboro gallery, promotes the arts in and around Clayton County.

Though the CowParade Atlanta event is meant to promote the arts in the metro area as well, proceeds from the event will benefit the American Cancer Society and TechBridge, an organization that provides technology to non-profit groups in Georgia. Being able to help the Cancer Society's efforts in cancer research means a lot to Brown, who has lost her father, aunt and grandmother to the disease.

"There's a lot of family ties there," she said. "It's obviously something we'd like to see eliminated some time soon."

The Atlanta event is the latest in a string of CowParade fund-raisers held throughout the world since the group started in 1998. More than $8 million has been raised for charitable organizations and more than $1.5 million has been paid to local artists since CowParade's inception. For more information, call the organization's hotline at (404) 898-2915 or visit its Web site at www.cowparadeatlanta.com.