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