CJ’s Hair and Art Studio seeks to serve
PHOTOGRAPHS BY REBEKAH MARTIN
Hearty laughter and sparkling conversation fill the room as CJ Denison works her magic on one of her afternoon clients. A snip here, a snip there and a few minutes of brushing and drying begin to reveal new life in the head of hair in front of her. As both an artist and a hair stylist, Denison has an eye for color and style.
“I can look at any picture and cut the hair – if your hair will do it – and I can basically look at any picture and paint it,” she said. “It’s just a gift from God. I don’t know how I know.”
As she continues to focus her attention on the finishing touches to her client’s hair, a ray of sunlight streams in through the front window, highlighting an array of colorful, detailed paintings that line the walls at the front of the shop – Denison’s paintings.
Denison said she enjoys painting different scenes using her gift, whether they come from her mind, a photograph or another famous work of art. Whatever she chooses to paint, though, she puts her own creative spin on it.
In the corner, next to a small side table with photographs and an open Bible, sit several of her painting projects. “There’s very few unfinished paintings,” Denison noted. “They’re mostly all finished.” One of her big projects this year will be to finish her own version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
“It was all just drapes (in the background), so I just colored it up,” said Denison, motioning to the bright, sunny scene she painted through the back and side windows of an old brick building. Her theme of bright colors works to give life to the painting beyond Jesus Christ and his Twelve Apostles at the table. “I got intimidated on the people, but I’ll go back to it.”
It’s been a long road for Denison to get where she is today. After overcoming many of her own adversities, Denison said she decided to set any doubts or fears she had aside and dedicate her life to doing what she loves. For her, that meant doing hair, making art and helping anyone and everyone with whom she crosses paths in any way she can.
Denison’s art, in whichever form it takes, is more than just art to her. She said she finds painting therapeutic. When it comes to hair, she is able to use her artistic skills to help give people a boost to their self-esteem.
“A good haircut can go a long way,” she said. “They feel better about themselves, and they look better, and the TLC – everybody needs a little TLC.”
Over the years, Denison has worked with a wide variety of styles, textures and colors. She has used her skills for everything from a run-of-the-mill cut and color to elegant and chic updos for weddings and proms. She is also known for being meticulous with both men’s and women’s haircuts. “I’ve done it all,” she said. “If you can name it, I’ve done it for years.”
For Denison, seeing a customer leave her studio feeling “like a million bucks” gives her a sense of pride and joy that she was able to play a small part in their happiness. “I do hair because I care,” she added.
She also loves to share her paintings with others. Last year, she worked hard for many months to paint a dazzling Italian scene as a “thank you” to a kind nurse. Many of the paintings hanging on the walls of her studio recreate charming beach scenes, adding to the laid-back vibe brought about by her beauty decor.
One powerful painting stands out with its stormy, purple sky and its spectacular display of bright strikes of lightning.
Coming from Denver, Colorado, Denison has been in Madison for the past 21 years. She opened her own salon and studio, CJ’s Hair and Art Studio, in 2005 and has built up a loyal base of customers in the years since. Her passion for what she does combined with a little word-of-mouth advertising from her happy customers has contributed to the steadfastness of her business, even through the Great Recession about a decade ago.
Meshing her passions together into one business gave Denison a means to focus on doing what she loves. She said she credits her grandfather, who was also an artist, for inspiring her to hone her art skills. She still holds onto one of his watercolor paintings.
“I like the watercolor because you can just let things go,” she said. Despite the greater ease of touching up the details of a painting that uses acrylics or oils, the beauty of a watercolor painting’s pastel colors captures Denison’s heart.
Growing up, Denison said she was intimidated by her grandfather’s art skills, but as she got older and developed her own skills, she realized she could be on the same level as her grandfather – or even a higher level. From there, she “started painting and painting and painting,” and her confidence grew until she became comfortable showing and sharing her art. Denison even taught her own painting classes at CJ’s Hair and Art Studio for several years before deciding to dedicate more time to her own paintings.
When she was 17 years old, Denison took a job painting an entire hair salon in Texas. That job would prove to be a significant turning point in her life.
“I realized the coolest people I had ever met was these hair stylists, and I just decided then that I was going to go to beauty school and be a hair stylist,” she said. “I was going to be an RN or a massage therapist, but I decided my calling was that.”
After working in several hair salons and developing her skills as a hairdresser, it was time for something a little different. That’s when she had the idea for CJ’s Hair and Art Studio.
With the opening of her Madison business, Denison has been able to continue doing what she loves and meeting more people to help, whether it be through her business or otherwise. Over the years, she has held about 40 or more fundraisers for various causes, including childhood cancer, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and more.
“I just feel like our time here on Earth is a short time,” she said. “You want to make the best of your time (and) do right by people … There’s so much going on, and that’s the way the world is. It’s so negative. But if I can give a shred of hope and pray for them and wish the best for everybody, that’s where I’m at.”
Denison said her own experiences in life have taught her to never give up, no matter what. She said she is thankful to be alive another day to help another person in need.
“I always stand up, and I rise above, and I’m always better and always stronger,” she said. “You just don’t give up.”
CJ’s Hair and Art Studio is located at 105 E Church St. in downtown Madison.