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Artists Over 40 Series: A Studio Visit with Deborah Boardman

Part of “Best of Chicago Art Magazine,” originally posted January 13, 2011.

Kevin Wilson

Studio, Oil on Canvas, 48” x 36”, 2009

Studio, Oil on Canvas, 48” x 36”, 2009

Walking into Deborah Boardman’s studio is an experience that is incredibly pleasant and appeasing to the senses. Calm, harmonic music plays from the corner of the room, and warm light shines over the white walls of the converted attic space. The oil painting table sits next to the gouache painting table, and her two dogs make their way through the space and the work within it. Deborah, a Chicago artist, has been located in the city since 1987 where she has been creating work driven by her love of painting and her desire to connect with the energies present in environments and the people who inhabit them.

In recent years, Deborah’s work has dealt with the mirroring of human personality with natural characteristics that occur in geography. Her most recent exhibition at the College of DuPage played with the idea of a fault line that runs through the gallery interacting with the personal faults that we as individuals see in ourselves. A play on language, and a statement that a fault can be interpreted as a fracture in the ground as well a noted flaw in a person, the art was shaped through many different processes and media. A scroll-like banner listing a collection of character flaws ran along the determined length of the fault line in the gallery, cutting through a platform and a table, and ultimately ending at a hand-crank that moved the scroll in cyclical motion. Deborah’s singing group crowded on the platform, harmonically chanting all the flaws she collected in a rather humorous performance. Then, upon the table lay one of Deborah’s beautiful artist books, which contained delicate gouache paintings of collected note cards, views of her studio and imagined patterns.

A Porous Space at College of DuPage

A Porous Space at College of DuPage

The first installment of this concept occurred at the Heskin Contemporary, New York in 2009, where the process began in the same manner. By way of the rather divine process of a professional dowser, the energy of the space was interpreted by unearthing the waterways and fault lines that run below, where after Deborah created a site-specific environment around it. Somewhat like a spiritual blueprint, this is a practice that Deborah discovered when traveling through Europe and finding that ancient Roman Cathedrals were built upon the intersections of these elemental energies. It truly is a fascinating concept and a brilliant method in which Deborah connects herself and the art she is making with a designated space, charging it with vitality and a transcendental spirit.

Dog Pattern, Oil on Canvas, 23” x 17”, 2009

Dog Pattern, Oil on Canvas, 23” x 17”, 2009

As interdisciplinary as Deborah’s practice is, she ultimately identifies most as a painter. Over her expansive career, the decision to embrace abstraction rather than resist it has benefited her work enormously. Patterns she would incorporate into larger works now stand unaccompanied, vibrantly pulsing on canvas and within the pages of her artist books. The light and airy quality of her paintings, especially the studies of her studio space that she makes regularly in an almost pious procedure, holds an ethereal nature that transforms them into an otherworldly space. Her brushstrokes are loose but confident, playfully exploring whatever it is she is painting with her hand as she moves the paint along. Within her studio, oil and gouache paintings are rotated about the walls, almost like a signifier of the mood for the day. Sketchbooks filled with colored pencil drawings can be found all around the space, like the ones from last year that contain hundreds of sketches of the lake, which she visits everyday as part of her morning ritual. They are quite lovely, cutting the page in half at the horizon line, separating water and earth from the sky and further showing her interest in her practice’s ability to transcend the elements presented to her. Deeply absorbed in history and spirituality, and her relationship to the two, Deborah’s paintings and other artistic endeavors are an extension of the spirit and the desire to connect it with greater forces in the world.

Originally from Massachusetts, Deborah received several degrees including her BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and her MFA from Tufts University’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She teaches at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and is currently working on a forthcoming exhibition at Ebersmoore, as well as planning a trip to India for next year.