Meet Sundridge artist Debra Barr-Smith
PUBLISHED: 17:54 06 June 2015 | UPDATED: 17:54 06 June 2015
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Debra's rainbows of colour are inspired both by Florida's clear, bright light and the wonderfully lush green Kent countryside
Debra Barr-Smith tells me: “I think I am a colourist” and when you see her canvases and paintings at her studio in Sundridge, there is of course no doubt.
Her landscapes, life drawings and abstracts sport a fantastic array of colour and cheer up the day – helped by the fact that she spends half her time in Florida, where the sun heightens colour.
However, Florida, she says, doesn’t have the range of exhibition and cultural venues of London and although she might have wished to live and work in London when younger, Debra comments “at my stage of life, Kent is far superior.”
She enjoys going to London and is a regular visitor to its many galleries and exhibitions, but here in Kent, her studio is formed from a converted cowshed and her house was once a dairy.
I ask Debra whether she has a design in her head when she works or whether it evolves. “Yes, I have a subject in my head, often I have sketches, with something in front of me,” she says.
She often paints or sketches en plein air, particularly in Florida where the climate lends itself. But even here in Kent, her painting group will go out into the countryside once a week in summer.
“When I go on my yoga holidays in Greece I will spend the afternoons, when not exercising, sketching. I have many holiday landscapes from Greek trips.”
Debra’s preferred medium is gouache and acrylic ink. The gouache has more intense colours and this informs her main painterly interests.
So if she had to paint in only one colour, which would it be? Debra laughs: “I don’t know. A bright one I guess.
“Perhaps bright pink, impossible but a bit silly, intense pink, or intense turquoise. I tend to work in high-key colours, I’m not much of a grey or brown sort of person.”
The question crops up again as I ask how she goes about choosing a colour in her representative works where her choices are fiercely non-naturalistic. “Even when I do my naked ladies, I see colour; people say how can you see purple and yellow, it’s not the colour she is?” smiles Debra.
We talk about Degas’ Woman Bathing, one of my favourite works in the National Gallery, where the pastels of the woman’s skin show all sorts of colour in the make up of the flesh.
Debra suggests that intellectualising a work often lessens its power. “I don’t like the art shows where there are three paragraphs explaining. The picture should express itself. Visual art is just that: visual”.
So how does Debra describe her subject matter? “I go to life drawing workshops twice a month. Still life always interests me, because I like the shapes and colours and really my paintings are more interested in shape, colour, lines and patterns, more than giving a photographic rendering.”
Her landscapes are vibrant and fade towards the abstract, which is another genre she works in, but she doesn’t ‘do’ portraits “because you have to be more literal.”
“A good question,” Debra comments when I ask how she knows when a work is finished. “Somehow your picture tells you ‘I’m done’, but I probably don’t just do my final paint stroke. I may think it seems finished and then go back the next day to see if my thoughts are confirmed.”
Debra works in series and may do three or four fruits or vegetables in a certain colour or shape of paper. The challenge is that when she comes to sell, it is often just one of a series that goes, where she would like to keep the series together.
She adds: “I am not a professional artist, I couldn’t support myself, although I earn enough to pay for materials and painting holidays, for example at West Dean.”
Debra recently took a printing course at West Dean and now plans to do more prints, and plans to continue painting, teaching and taking courses
“I have a lovely time,” she beams.
Get in touch
Debra Barr-Smith, Dibgate Farm, Chevening, Sundridge NI4 6AB, 01959 569054. Email to arrange a visit by appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.debrabarrsmith.com.
Debra’s works are to be found at the Portico Gallery, 25 Riverhead Mews, Sevenoaks TN13 2BU, 01732 456655.
Debra Barr-Smith’s work will also be seen in the Kent Painters Exhibition at Sevenoaks School in October, Florum exhibition at the Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve in September and with Sevenoaks Art Club at the Kaleidoscope Gallery, Buckhurst Lane, Sevenoaks TN13 1LQ, 03000 413131.
This month: Visit Debra’s studio during the South East Open Studios from 5-21 June 2015.