Artists Deb and Norm Luce

Artist couple co-creates on canvas

Norm and Debra Luce finally ready to sell off two decades of shared paintings in weekend show

The fact that Norm and Debra Luce are husband-and-wife artists is not particularly unusual. That they work together on the same canvas is rather more unusual.

The real rarity, though, is how reluctant they’ve been to sell the product of that labour — even when asked.

“We’ve sold a few, but we’ve not sold a lot more,” said Norm. “People have asked, and we’re, ‘Ahh, we don’t want to part with them.’”

That’s all going to change this weekend, when the Luces host their first exhibit — and sale — after 20 years of creating together. The event will take place Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in their home at 421 Day Place, just off Corfield Street in Parksville.

The couple is moving from the house to a home-sitting arrangement for the next six months or so, and are finally ready to start over when they eventually build their next house.

“We want to paint again,” said Debra. “That’s the big impetus (for the sale). While we have 50 framed paintings, we’re not painting. Because, where are we going to put it when we’re finished?”

“It’s time for this stuff to go,” Norm adds, looking around the sparsely furnished living room dominated by vibrant, abstract paintings. “It’s overdue, actually.”

The couple’s saga began when they met in 1994 in Abbotsford. Debra Le Page was a graphic designer who had been trained in art school and was producing commercial work, including logos for Expo 86 and for the City of Mission.

When she met Norm, a home-building contractor, he was painting with acrylics as a hobby.

“I hadn’t worked with acrylics,” she said. “He said, ‘Try this.’ I said no, because I didn’t want to wreck his canvas. But he said, ‘No, you’re not going to wreck it; I’ll show you.’ So he did a little painting and I did a little.

“We were pleased when we were finished; really pleased with what had happened.”

Debra and Norm Luce share a laugh as they stand in the former studio space of the home they’re selling in Parksville. — J.R. Rardon photo

They were married the following year — they’ll celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in just over a week — and have continued to paint side-by-side ever since.

“Some are 50/50, some are 90/10, and there’s everything in between,” Debra said. “If you knew us well enough, you’d be able to tell which one does what.”

Their style has evolved over the years, but from the early days the two settled on a colour scheme that bypasses mixing paints in favour of applying paint straight from the tube. This has resulted in a collection of pieces both brightly coloured and heavily textured.

While many of the works have stark horizontal and/or vertical lines, they’re usually shot through with gaudy splashes of colour or pure white that appears to have been flung onto the canvas — often because that’s exactly what’s happened.

Several years ago the Luces owned a very large home with a huge upstairs studio, where they were able to leave unfinished works and supplies out for easy access. With that space covered in tarps, they entered their most prolific period.

“My mother was very ill at the time and we had a new business in Courtenay we were trying to get established,” said Debra. “There was so much care and concern in our lives that at night we’d come up to this studio and let go.”

“That was our release,” Norm added.

“And that’s when we started to get madly abstract,” Debra resumes. “Just to blow away the concerns of life. It was very freeing.”

The two remain remarkably close despite both working and playing together. Debra works with Norm’s home-building business while continuing to dabble in commercial graphic arts. Debra believes their closeness may result from a common heritage. After they met, they learned Norm’s family hails from the small channel island of Jersey, off the coast of France, while Debra’s grandfather is from the neighbouring island of Guernsey.

“Maybe that’s why we get along so well,” she said. “Because our people came from the same little speck.”

They admit occasional conflicts will crop up when they paint, but they have always been minor and quickly overcome. Norm said the two will have the odd discussion about a particular painting, but more often they will simply sit down and get to it in companionable silence.

“Those are the better paintings, I think,” said Debra. “Those are the paintings where it’s a true collaboration.”

And for the first time, the result of that collaboration can be seen in a single place. Not only have the Luces never held a show or done a gallery exhibit, but they’ve never even seen their own works assembled together until setting up for this weekend.

“We haven’t brought the collection all out and hung it up like this, ever,” said Norm. “We usually put a couple of pieces up in a house, and the rest is stashed somewhere. So it’s nice to see everything up.”

After years of essentially hoarding the art — “We felt like they were all our children or something, like they couldn’t go out the door,” Debra said — the couple is serious about letting it go now.

Prices for this weekend’s show range from $100 to less than $900 for even the larger pieces.

“We want people to take them and enjoy them,” said Debra. “We don’t want to hold onto them because the price is too high. Please take it home.”

“Before we change our mind,” Norm added with a laugh.

Artists Norm and Debra Luce will give away this small painting, titled Hokkaido, in a draw during this weekend’s art show and sale at their Parksville home.

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