In this conversation with artist Deborah Perugi, we talk about her creative process, the power of community, and an earlier project that shaped the direction of her current work.
Read on to learn more, and be sure to visit Deborah at the 2023 Open Studios event happening April 29 & 30. You can find her at Artists at The Centre, 1294 Centre St, Newton Centre, MA 02459.
Tell us about your work and your process. What do you make and how do you make it?
I currently create two styles of paintings. First, is cold wax which is a mixture of cold wax and oil paint and applied to board or paper. These pieces are generally not larger than three feet on any side and can include use of paper, sand, and oil paint sticks. I’ve been working in cold wax for a number of years and last year went to Mexico to learn more techniques from one of the authors of Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations.
Second, is acrylic painting on canvas. In this process, I use drips, scrapers and mixed media to make marks. This is a totally expressive experience and I let the marks guide me in the design.
Tell us about how your journey as an artist started. What is your background and what inspired you to commit yourself to a creative practice?
My grandfather was a marble sculptor from Carrara, Italy, so I think that had a lot to do with my desire to make art. I was encouraged by my family from an early age. I spent a few summers with my grandparents in Brooklyn amusing myself with paint by number and then later with drawing. I majored in art in high school and at Penn State University.
Tell us more about how your practice has evolved. What are some creative accomplishments you are proud of or milestones you have reached along your way?
Living in a beautiful, rural neighborhood in Pennsylvania inspired me to paint a nearby historic stone schoolhouse and it became a family favorite. I also won an award of a floral painting during high school. These accomplishments were small steps toward an art major at Penn State. After college, I focused on design, photography, and illustration. With this new skillset, I got a job at the Boston Globe making information graphics. I worked in the editorial design department for eleven fruitful years.
I returned to painting about ten years ago by studying plein-air at Concord Art and participated in a weeklong workshop in Monhegan, Maine. To my surprise, a teacher at the same school whom I respected suggested I not take more classes, but to work on my own. This led me to create a home studio. In 2020, I had a great opportunity to teach a cold wax class at Newton Community Ed, which I repeated at Post Road Art Center in Marborough. Since then, I’ve entered many shows and look forward to more!
Tell us about your creative community. Are there any friends, collaborators, teachers, patrons, or organizations who have supported you along the way?
Best teachers were Don Lantzy in junior high, Ken Kuhn at Altoona campus of Penn State, Dietmar Winkler at Southeastern Mass U. (for graphic design), National Geographic Photographer Sam Abel in Maine (for photography), and Martha Wakefield at Concord Art. I would also recommend online teachers Nicholas Wilton and Pamela Caughy. I value my many friends in the Newton Open Studios community, illustrator-artists from the Boston Globe and my artist community on social media.
Describe a particularly significant artwork you have created. Why was that piece significant to you and how did it impact your art making practice?
An acrylic/mixed media painting I made in 2019 (at right) started an ongoing series in the same style. These are curvilinear paintings inspired by the work of Claire B Cotts. Just before Covid a plan to take her class fizzled, but I was fortunate to view her work later at NewArt Gallery in Santa Fe. I’ve since made about five of these paintings and sold two.
What’s next for you and your artwork? What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Expect to see a more abstract paintings from me in the future. I find it fulfilling to create work that is really uniquely my own. And, I think the potential is infinite. However, at some point I’d like to paint in still life and portraiture.
Casey Curry is a writer and curator guided by the belief that the transformation our world so desperately needs can only come from deep cultural shifts sparked by visionary artists who make fundamental change irresistible. Her research is rooted in thinking creatively about arts administration to uncover what is possible when visionary artists are not just supported by administrative allies, but truly understood and valued by co-creators with complimentary skills that level bureaucratic barriers to societal impact through art.