Expressions of Life - Tahoe This Week 2004

March 23, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Expressions of Life written By Barbara Hass, published in local newspaper 'Tahoe This Week'

Internet, optic-fiber phone lines, faxes and digital cameras are making the world a smaller place in which to live. With instant access to Western pop culture and the increase in travel to what used to be remote locations, the advanced, modern world is homogenizing cultures and people toward a more Westernized way of life.
Debi's "Rust and Wrinkles" exhibit on display at the North Tahoe Art Center captures the feelings and expressions of traditional tribal people before the onslaught of Western culture. By reproducing the exact facial expressions, Debi hopes to preserve the unique and very non-Western atmosphere of the places where she travels.

"I love to travel," she explains . "The first time I traveled for three-and-a-half months in between my school courses, and the second time I left for four months. During all my travels I kept a visual diary of my journeys, similar to a scrapbook, to keep straight the mass of ideas, thoughts and opinions conjured by inspiring occasions and spontaneous moments."

Debi started out at a College of Arts in Cornwall. After she earned a degree in illustration, she was offered a job at a publishing company, where she worked for a few years. At Hodder & Stoughton Publishing (a big publishing company in London) , she was in charge of illustrating children’s book covers.

Drawing from her experiences abroad to places like India and Nepal, Debi has created a series of works that not only incorporate her own feelings, but stays true to the expressions of her subject matter. While traveling she would oftentimes visit the local libraries to learn about the culture and traditions of the places she visited. It got her thinking about the impact tourism has on these remote cultures and how they are bombarded with Western pop culture.

"In Ladakh, Nepal, I noticed the global changes that have occurred since tourists have discovered this isolated area, some good and some bad," she recalls. "Only 20 years before the area was entirely self-sufficient and unaffected by outside influences. Now, there is litter, poverty and a loss of the traditional way of life."

Capturing these traditions and people before they are lost in the tidal wave of modernization is one of Debi’s goals. Her detailed renditions of faces preserve for people elsewhere the aspects of a culture that may be swept away by the Western world’s globalization. Many times on her trips, she spent time people watching, sketching and photographing, often waiting until she saw that face with a story hidden in the facial lines and eyes – and she remembers every story behind the hundreds of photos she has taken.

"I saw this woman walking in Katmandu, and I was intrigued by her face. I ran ahead of her so that I could take a snap shot of her in front of this darkened doorway. Just as I took the picture, she turned and looked at me," Debi recalls . "Her face tells many different stories, and I have often wished I could speak the language so I could hear the stories myself."

Facial expressions are her favorite thing to paint, and she always knows what she wants the painting to look like before she starts. She achieves a balance between the faces and background by using color and composition. As an illustrator, she used color to draw attention to a book, now she uses it to draw people into the stories told by the facial expressions of her subjects in her paintings.

"Lately I have been painting into the night in my studio," comments Debi. "I sketch out what I want, then resolve any issues while I am painting, and oftentimes I will wake in the middle of the night still thinking about them. I like to use board rather than canvas to get my own texture, and I utilize glazes, oil and alkid paints, along with gesso, to bring intensity to my work. I am a total perfectionist, and I have to be completely finished with a painting before I will let it be hung."

Faces aren’t the only things Debi likes to paint. On a recent trip to Utah with her dad, she discovered rusty trucks, which can be just as expressive as her faces. "When my dad came over to visit, we took a trip through Arches, Canyonlands and Bryce National Parks. While we were driving one day, I saw an old broken-down truck on the side of the road. After a few miles went past, I couldn’t get the image out of my head, so we turned around and I photographed it with a painting in mind. Now I am on a mission to find more rusty trucks."

Whether it’s faces or rusty trucks, Debi plans to keep painting what she wants. "Rust and Wrinkles" is her first show here in the States, and it has only wetted her appetite. After this summer, she plans to travel along the coast, checking out bigger galleries (and of course more faces), while promoting her oil paintings. She is also looking for more commission work (she recently was commissioned to paint a six-foot painting for a family in the Bay Area).

"When I left England, I was tired of the rain and dreariness," expresses Debi. "I love Tahoe for its sunshine and active lifestyles, and I’ve made lots of great friends here. I think I will always come back!"

Make a point to stop by and check out this incredible artist. Her work, along with her scrapbook of her journeys is on display at the North Tahoe Art Center, 380 N.Lake Blvd., from now until the end of May. Lose yourself in the stories of her art and experience a snap shot of life.


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