A strong sense of place runs through Deb Peters’s landscape paintings.
The Qualicum Beach artist produces vibrant acrylics firmly rooted in west coast sensibilities. A handful of these pieces currently line the walls of the gallery at Qualicum Beach Art Supply.
At first glance, the paintings seem to be classic depictions of west coast scenes. A cabin by the sea, birch trees dotted with colourful bird houses, a lighthouse by the ocean, two kayaks and life jackets caught abandoned on the shore, as though their owners had just ducked out of the frame for a quick dip in the Salish Sea.
Talking to Peters one understands that yes, they are landscapes – but the understanding starts to unfold that they are also commentaries on the mark that we as humans leave on the natural world.
The discussion starts with mention of the tugboat painting in the window of the shop.
“I think it’s also a responsibility for us to talk about how we influence nature. Like, if we do have the tugs, what are we doing? And is it for logging? How much should we be logging? We can never get away from it, but what should we be doing?” said Peters.
“Even the trees, the birch trees having houses on it, we still get ourselves into nature very deeply. And hopefully we’re respecting it. I think that’s very important for us to be able to put that idea across, too.”
Peters is quick to point out that there is a levity to the paintings, a lightness to this commentary.
The message mingles with the supreme beauty of nature and the ways that people, especially Islanders, harbour a deep appreciation for its raw beauty.
“For me, I’m trying really hard to put in landscape paintings … but I’m also trying to put something into the landscape that says we also are part of it, so hopefully we can co-exist. That’s really important to me. Still, we need to have colour and brightness and life around us,” said Peters.
“I’m consciously aware of it when I’m painting something, but I also want people to be happy.”
Peters moved to Vancouver Island from the Fraser Valley some years ago, and wound up spending a fair amount of time working on the northern tip of the Island, spending time working for the school board in Alert Bay, Port McNeill and Port Hardy.
Some of the images in her paintings – a war canoe, a rack of smoked salmon, three totems standing guard over a bay – come from a deep appreciation of the First Nations cultures and peoples she worked alongside during those times.
“They’re really in tune, I think, with people and nature, much more so than we do in our every day lives here,” said Peters.
“It’s meaningful, their stories. You say ‘oh! That’s really a good philosophy to live by.’ I know they’ve really tried to promote their youth with that kind of story, so they can be good citizens and make life a better place.”
Peters draws a lot of inspiration from locations around Vancouver Island.
She visits places across the Island and is particularly drawn to locations with historical significance.
“It’s just a wonderful place to immerse yourself that way. And then of course, the paintings become what your surroundings are. And I think every painter and every musician and every writer, everybody’s got a story to tell. So that’s what I kind of try to put into a painting,” said Peters.
She starts by painting the whole canvas black, and then uses chalk to build the composition after she makes sketches from photographs.
“I build from back to front, and slowly go from big to detail,” said Peters.
She’s been artist her entire life.
“I did the art through my childhood, art through university, the life drawings, the painting, the theatre set design, all that kind of thing. … did the career, and then came back to this. Wholeheartedly embraced it. It just felt right, so I just kept going with it. And it’s been a lot of fun doing it,” said Peters.
As the conversation turns from nature and place to process, Qualicum Beach Art Supply & Gallery owner Bonnie Luchtmeijer comes over to share good news.
“Sold the one in the window!” says Luchtmeijer. A couple from Vancouver had just called to purchase an acrylic depiction of a tugboat out on the open water that hung in the window of the shop.
Peters laughs and exclaims.
“There we go! Alright! God bless ya!” said Peters with a laugh. Her face is lit up with happiness as she describes the feeling of making a sale.
“It’s always shocking! It’s overwhelming. I’m always surprised, and I’m always really happy,” said Peters.
Deb Peters’s work will be available at Qualicum Beach Art Supply & Gallery until the middle of February.