Morning Prowl by Johannes Cowan

Sefton Open – The People’s Prize 2023

Solo exhibition by Johannes Cowan

ArtHouse, 65 Eastbank Street, Southport, Merseyside, PR8 1EJ

27th June to 8th July 2023

Once again, visitors to this year’s Sefton Open at The Atkinson in Southport were encouraged to vote for their favourite artwork on display and reward the recipient with The People’s Prize.

The 2023 winner is Johannes Cowan for his commanding digital artwork – ‘Morning Prowl’ – which has now earned him a solo showing at The ArtHouse from 27th June to the 8th July 2023. 

He said: “I have been painting professionally for five years now – but unprofessionally all my life.  My life has gone through as many changes as has the world around me, but I must say that my love of painting remains as strong as it was when I was a young man. I could not imagine my life without it.”

Recognised as one of the region’s premiere exhibitions for local artists, The Sefton Open has a long-standing reputation for its celebration of the breadth of creativity and artistic talent across the borough. Each year the call goes out to all practitioners who live, work or were educated in Sefton and this year’s eclectic exhibition included ceramics, sculpture, painting, textiles and photography.

Jemma Tynan, Exhibitions Officer at The Atkinson confirms: “It has been a bumper year for The Sefton Open with a greatly increased number of submissions, all of which were of a very high quality. Visitors have consistently commented on their enjoyment of the work within the exhibition with many returning for two or three visits so they could appreciate it all.”

Formed in 1921 to champion the work of local artists, The Atkinson’s long standing partner, Southport Palette Club, always has the challenging task of selecting the exhibited artwork from the numerous submissions each year. 2023 is the Palette Club’s 97th annual exhibition and the bar was raised once again this year with an unprecedented number of entries all vying for their space in the gallery.

Birkdale based professional artist and current Chairman of Southport Palette Club, Peter Owen, reports: “Increased submission to the Southport Palette Club meant a rigorous selection which is reflected in the quality of the work displayed in this year’s exhibition.”

This year’s People’s Prizewinner, Johannes Cowan, is a digital artist who was born in Denmark but grew up in Dublin:

“I found a love for art at around 10 years old and would sketch animals and landscapes using acrylic pencils or watercolours.  As I got older I started playing around with inks and calligraphy, and Olde English style writing took my interest. Art has always played a big part of my life, capturing landscapes wherever I’ve lived. It made me feel calm and at peace. It became a passion and completely self taught and naturally within me.”

However, growing up, fate dealt Johannes a cruel blow:

“At just 20 years old, I became paralysed and for 10 years I was unable to use my hands and lost my ability to create the art I loved so much.  I underwent hand surgery at 30 years old, to give me the ability to grip with my left hand and had to relearn how to use my hand. The first thing I picked up was a pen.  I used calligraphy to train my hand in strength and control.  Here was where my passion for art restarted.”

Persevering against all the odds, Johannes battled against adversity and built up both confidence and skill with a primary focus towards digital art:

“I use Adobe Photoshop to initially create sketches of landscapes, animals, architecture and people.  Photoshop gives me the diversity to use multiple brushes, textures and colours in great detail. I can achieve brilliant results that give me great satisfaction.”

Taking inspiration from American painter and animator, Aaron Blaise, best known for his work on Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’, Johannes built up his own skill base:

“Blaise, along with other artists on YouTube, provided techniques and inspiration that I would apply to my own paintings, such as learning about light and shadow.”

Johannes has since become quite methodical in generating his paintings:

“My process in creating artwork starts very simply through drawing and rough sketching using Photoshop. I do a lot of rough sketches, followed by hard sketches, then work in layers using various shading and opacity filters.  I add a flat colour to the background, then add shading to give dimension, then what really makes it jump is adding light – both hard and soft light.  Photoshop is great for adding fine detail and tweaking when I feel it’s relevant, and lets me create effects such as illusion by blurring and sharpening parts of the art to draw the eye to certain aspects of the image.”

‘Morning Prowl’ grew out of Johannes’ infatuation with the potential of the new software:

“This piece started as an idea from a dear friend of mine with whom I’d been discussing the possibilities of Photoshop. At the time it was still fairly new to me and I was excited at this whole new opportunity to create pieces using digital art and stretch my capabilities. He suggested I paint a tiger prowling through the jungle. He wanted to see a really crisp image including detail like hair and whiskers, and even water.  I was so eager to get the perfect results and eventually worked for 5 months to achieve this.  My friend was astounded at the finished piece and told me I should exhibit it wherever I could, and so I did.”

The demanding work schedule certainly paid off since the result won Johannes the public vote as the 2023 Peoples Prizewinner at the Sefton Open.

More of Johannes’ digital artwork will now be on show at his follow-up solo exhibition at The ArtHouse, 65 Eastbank Street, Southport from 27th June to the 8th July (Tues-Fri 10.00-15.00 & Sat 11.00-16.00).


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