Portrait of an Artist: Deb Chaney

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God, consciousness, and renewal resonate throughout East Side abstract artist Deb Chaney’s works, particularly her latest series.

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The walls in her live/work studio in the Arc building at the foot of Commercial Drive play host to many large pieces inspired by grand metaphors. With each brush stroke and colour choice, Chaney knows exactly what effect she’s accomplishing. Her powerfulness as a person and a painter is exuded in the clarity and conviction by which she expresses her intent.

“When does god appear?” she says, reflecting on her series entitled When Physicality Meets Spirituality—a series that features abundant and magnificent skylines relative to small slivers of earth below. “For me, it’s a tangible experience. It’s something that can be felt—an ethereal lightness with a lot of energy.”

Deb Chaney works out of a studio at the foot of Commercial Drive.
Nathan Jones

A post-religious spiritualist, Chaney aspires to capture the essence of the universal consciousness—what she is referring to when she says “god”—through her art. She expresses this on canvas and paper, but channels it through meditation and yoga.

With a history filled with pivotal “ah ha” moments and awakenings, Chaney reflects on how fortunate she was at the age of 18 to have met her mentor: a woman studying quantum mechanics who taught her to meditate and asked her—point blank—life’s big questions.

“She sat me down and asked: ‘What’s the purpose of your life and why are you here?’ I had never thought about those things until that moment,” says Chaney, who will be 40 this year.

This led Chaney to start journaling, her first committed creative expression; however, the urge to paint came later, when she was studying to be an environmental geologist at the University of Victoria. At the time, she walked by a church and saw an easel that was just so stunning in the sunshine that she knew, “I have to paint!”

But first, she was compelled to continue adventuring: “Once you start exploring the journey never ends. I’ve learned to surrender to constant change, and to bring on new learning and growing.”

Part of that journey was training as a sailor and working as crew on various sailboats from Vancouver down to Mexico. She had planned to go as far as Venezuela, but her mind changed—she needed a studio to paint—and off she went to Los Angeles.

At this point, she “got entirely swept away” by the art world. She would go to galleries, seek out artists she wanted to apprentice under, and then fly to their studios in whatever part of the U.S. they lived. Never having been to art school, Chaney credits these teachers—Lana Grow, Ann Baldwin, Bob Burridge, and Adolfo Girala—for moving her work into the prestigious and collected realm it is today.

“I let each layer guide me and trust that the finished image will emerge. I paint with large sky flow brushes, palette knives, sea sponges, sturdy workshop rags, and even my fingers and sleeves,” she says.

A piece from Deb Chaney's When Physicality Meets Spirituality series.
Courtesy Deb Chaney

Chaney has been creating a new body of work every year for the last decade, with each new series representing a piece of her life.

“[The act of] painting is how I process life and how I understand my place in it,” she says. “If you look at an atom—right into its centre—it’s 99 percent space. God is like that—a universal consciousness and the space in between that connects all the things we know to be true.”

Having lived so much life for her years already, Chaney is peaceful in her ethos of gratitude. “It’s become more and more deeply rooted in me as time has gone on.”

See more of Chaney’s work at debchaney.com.

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