Oamaru is teeming with artistic talent, often tucked away in solitary splendour with or without the lockdown, so we are prising open studio doors to meet the creative people inside. This week’s artist is Debbie Price-Ewen
Q What sort of art do you create?
I’m a Jill of all trades, with skills in mixed media, assemblage and small-scale model-making through to painting in oils, acrylic, watercolour and gouache. The art I’m creating at the moment, though, is inspired by contemporary Surrealist artists and the old masters of painting, as well as literature and Oamaru’s immensely diverse and colourful culture and environment.
Q Do you have formal training or are you more self-taught?
I have some formal training in art and design, but I am mainly self-taught through play and experimentation as well as the vast number of online learning resources.
Q How long have you been involved in this sort of art?
The current body of work that you see pictured has been in production since October last year. I have given myself one year to create a solo exhibition which I hope to have exhibited locally first, before taking it out to the big wide world.
Q What is its appeal to you?
As I’m constantly learning how to look at things and refine my artistic sensibilities, I’m looking to the painting masters of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries – artists such as Kiprensky, Adolphe Piot, Rembrandt, and a more recent discovery Fernand Khnopff. I am also a huge fan of the Surrealist painters: Leonora Carrington, in particular, as well as Dali. The more I study their work and learn about their art and their lives, the more inspired I become. The Surrealists were rule-breakers and explorers of the unknown. They were great adventurists! And I love adventure.
Q Do you experiment with new approaches and techniques?
Constantly. My current obsession is using watercolour and gouache together – lots of trial and error there, as one medium is quite opaque and if applied too heavily can muddy and deaden the work, while watercolour, although beautifully translucent and delicate, can be wildly unpredictable and difficult to control.
Q Are you planning to branch out into other art forms?
I’ve actually already started to: I’m currently making a Book Nook diorama. I work at the Oamaru Public Library and I’m desperately missing it and all my lovely customers. You can see my progress on this small-scale model on Instagram: @debrinapriceewen.
Q How does your art fit into the rest of your life – is it purely for relaxation, do you earn income from it, are you aiming to make it a career?
My eventual aim is to make it my career in my 65th year! In other words, I’ll retire from libraries (my first passion) and simply side-step into my art career. But for now, it’s a serious recreational pursuit that pays for itself.
Q How responsive is the local community to artists and their art?
Very! There is huge support in our community for local artists. The Waitaki district and surrounds are full of people who really respect and support all forms of art and culture. We are a very creative town, too, with many talented and highly skilled artists supporting other artists. You just need to go for a walk down to our old precinct to see the number of creative and collaborative outlets there are.
Q If you could design a perfect world, what role would art play?
Art should and would be everywhere. In fact, it already is: from the cars we drive to the buildings we live in, these things were once an idea in an artist’s head. More importantly, though, I think art should inspire us to question, reflect, feel and act: there is much delight and comfort to be taken from art as much as its ability to challenge status quo and tell the truth about the world we live in.