Published on August 22, 2022
By Molly Gilmore
Debra Van Tuinen: Creating Light and Community
Debra Van Tuinen has received many accolades for her paintings, which were included in the 2004 Florence Biennale and have hung in U.S. embassies, but her latest award recognizes not her art but her courage and her commitment to Olympia. Van Tuinen — who opened a downtown studio and gallery in August 2020 — also recently received a 2022 Economic Courage Award from the Thurston Economic Development Council.
“Debra’s gallery launched during the throes of the ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ lockdown,” said Michael Cade, the council’s executive director. “She took that corner office space and created a light on that corner that told people, ‘We will get through this.’ The arts are a driver of our local economy, and she has taken a leadership role.
A blue, encaustic work by Van Tuinen
Cade’s metaphor is an apt one: Creating light is what Van Tuinen does in her multilayered paintings — some in encaustic, some in oil over acrylic, and many incorporating sumi ink — and in her prints. The series she’s been working on since 2019 is called “Light Revealed,” and art critic Doug Meyer, quoted on Van Tuinen’s website, described her paintings, often inspired by Northwest waters, as radiant. They bask in the reflected light of a physical universe beyond the picture plane,” he wrote.
“I’ve always been quite attracted to the water, so I do a lot of things on the water, but also what’s really important to me is the light and how it affects my work,” she told OLY ARTS. “The encaustic is nice, because there are so many translucent layers. You can see through them when you walk around them. The paintings change color as you walk around, because the light is going through those layers. I think I’ve achieved that in the oils and acrylic-oils as well. … It’s just like when you’re walking by water and you see it change.”
She’s also been experimenting with ways to create layers of texture and color in prints — painting on silk glued to a board, then applying ink and wiping it off, or painting with watercolor on polyester film and combining multiple layers, she said. “I really enjoy working on the prints because I get to play and then I get inspired,” she added.
Van Tuinen sits at her desk in her downtown Olympia studio
At the beginning of the pandemic, Van Tuinen found her art shifting and changing. “Going through these times does affect my work,” she said. “I got a little darker to begin with and then brought in some color and lightness again.” For many pieces, she started with sumi ink and then added paint. “I covered up the darkness a bit, but you can still see it.”
The move to the downtown studio, with 14-foot ceilings and big windows overlooking Fourth Avenue, affected Van Tuinen’s art, too. “When I first moved, it took a while to paint again, because it was a new space and everything was so perfect,” she said. These days, there’s paint on the floor of the room she works in, and she’s downtown nearly every weekday and many Saturdays, too. “I get so absorbed,” she said, “but I try to do other things, too. I would be here every day if I didn’t think about it.
“I have really sold a lot of work here,” she added. “A lot of people found me when I first got here.” During the early days of the pandemic, a lot of galleries were closed, and these days, she’s less focused on sending work out of town and seeking shows, and more focused on making new work. “I’ve got enough going on right here,” she said. “I’m really focused on being here creating and bringing people in, and people are buying.”
Van Tuinen has also been mentoring other artists and entrepreneurs, and she hopes to inspire more artists to work in downtown Olympia. “I want to get more people down here,” she said. “You have to have a vision to be able to make that happen. People say, ‘Your space is so great. I want that space.’ There are a lot of great spaces.”
“Yellow” by Debra Van Tuinen
OPEN BY APPOINTMENT
429 Fourth Ave W
Olympia, WA 98501
Artist Debra Van Tuinen’s New Olympia Gallery Offers Much Needed Light and Inspiration
By Hillary Ryan
Showcase Magazine, Spring 2021
Layers of blue, grey and silver leaf create deep and translucent layers that almost obscure the tiny boat in Debra Van Tuinen’s “Adrift” which is currently on view at her new gallery in downtown Olympia. The work, which seems to change from different angles, was created during the long months of the pandemic. For Van Tuinen, it reflects the creating waves of confusion and deep sense of isolation many people struggled with and experienced in 2020.
Additionally, as travel restrictions limit explorations and adventures, it is through her work that new views can be found and savored. Focused on the personal exploration of landscape, many of these works can transport you instantaneously to other places for that much needed change of scenery.
Van Tuinen Gallery
Quick studio shots left a lasting impression of the powerful energy of internal and external landscapes when I dropped by Debra's studio last weekend.
By Molly Gilmore, Contributing Writer
August 26, 2020 05:45 AM
Olympia, Washington artist Debra Van Tuinen has opened a new gallery and studio in the Views on Fifth development on the downtown isthmus. By Tony Overman
Light fascinates Olympia artist Debra Van Tuinen. Her paintings glow, evoking the play of light on water.
“Van Tuinen’s paintings possess radiance,” art critic Doug Meyer wrote in a review on the artist’s website. “They bask in the reflected light of a physical universe beyond the picture plane.”
The artist’s love of light is evident in her new downtown Olympia studio and gallery at 429 Fourth Ave. W. The corner space, with abundant windows and 14-foot ceilings, is filled with paintings inspired by Northwest landscapes and executed in encaustic and in oil over acrylic.
Opening a gallery in the middle of a pandemic might seem a strange choice, but it makes perfect sense to Van Tuinen.
“It’s been an interesting year,” she told The Olympian. “Everything that was supposed to happen was postponed, so I felt more of a need to have a gallery here in town.”
Among the postponed shows was a major one at Woodward Canyon Winery in Lowden, Washington, to celebrate the release of the 2017 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon with her work on the label.
It’s just one of many honors she’s achieved through her career. She was invited to the Florence Biennale in 2004, and her art has been hung in U.S. embassies. Locally, she created the art for the first Arts Walk map cover in 2000.
Her work is sold in galleries across the country as well as one in Canada, but most of those have been closed for months due to the coronavirus, and sales have been few.
Meanwhile, Van Tuinen has been continuing to sell her own work to Western Washington buyers and wanted a place where people could come to see her pieces.
The space holds many of her signature large paintings, some measuring 60 or 66 inches square, but also displays some new pieces as small as 3-by-3 inches. A cabinet holds watercolor prints.
Since moving into the new studio, she said, she’s already sold a few large pieces.
“I’m enjoying having people come back and having their friends come,” she said. “Even with masks and social distancing, people still want to come and see the work. There’s a lot of interest.”
She hasn’t had an Olympia gallery since 2008, when the recession led her to close her space on Market Street. After that, she spent a few years in Portland before returning to Olympia and working in the garage of her home.
“My studio was really hot in the summertime and really cool in the wintertime,” she said. “I was looking for a better spot to work, and so many people wanted to see the work, and it’s hard to show it at home.”
She needed more space, she added, and the space in Views on Fifth provides that: What would have been the kitchen of the live/work space has been opened up to serve as a flexible studio space, and what was intended as a small bedroom is filled with more paintings.
“I’m feeling really good about being there,” she said.
DEBRA VAN TUINEN'S STUDIO/GALLERY
I’m thrilled to announce the Grand Opening of my new studio/gallery, Van Tuinen Art. It's located across from the Yacht Club at Views on Fifth, in one of Olympia's newest architectural additions, 429 4th Ave W, Olympia WA 98502.
OPEN ON SATURDAY
Open Saturday afternoons, 1-5 pm. I’d love to see if you drop by.
OPEN BY APPOINTMENT
Please feel free to request an appointment anytime.
Woodard Canyon Winery
I'm honored to have my art selected by Woodward Canyon Winery of Walla Walla, Washington for their 2017 “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon, released in May 2020.
Stay in Touch
I trust you are happy and healthy during these unprecedented times. Stay in touch and let me know if you are passing through Olympia. I would love to see you and share my latest work.
Thank you for your time,
Debra Van Tuinen
Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
Please join me at Waterstreet Cafe for the Fall 2017 Olympia Arts Walk.
Arts Walk Discount
Receive a 20% discount on all commissions and artwork sold on Friday and Saturday during Arts Walk.
Share a glass of wine and ask me questions about my new work. I'd love to see you.
Friday, October 6
5:00 — 8:30 pm
Saturday, October 7
1:00 — 5:00 pm
610 Water St SW
Olympia, WA 98501
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Two Panels, Encaustic/Gold Leaf on wood panels, 60" x 96"
Photo Credit © Carl Juste, Miami Herald
New work—new opportunities
November 30 — December 5, 2016
I participated in the Spectrum / Red Dot Show during the Miami Art Basel and showed three of my new acrylic and sumi ink on canvas paintings.
As a result, in 2017 my work will be represented by Steidel Fine Art Gallery in London, England. They will show my work in the 2017 May AFF show in Hampstead, London and at aFall show at Steidel Fine Art Gallery in Austin, Texas.
We enjoyed viewing wonderful work at the galleries and talking to the curators, at the Miami Basel, Art Miami, Concepts, Aqua and Pulse shows. I am currently following up on opportunities with galleries that are interested in representing my work.
Each piece is available. Please send a note to start the conversation.
What is Art Basel?
While Art Basel provides a platform for galleries to show and sell their work to collectors, museum directors, and curators, it also attracts a large international audience of art spectators and students.
Art Basel is an international art fair with four shows staged annually in Basel, Switzerland; Miami Beach, Florida; the Wynwood Art District in Miami, Florida; and Hong Kong, China. Each show is organized into sectors which showcase contemporary artworks by established and newly emerging artists.
In addition to the artworks shown by participating galleries, the shows offer parallel programming produced in collaboration with the host city’s local institutions.
The New Red Dot Miami
Red Dot Miami, is a juried contemporary art show featuring 50+ international galleries exhibiting paintings, sculpture, photography, and secondary market works.