By Bob Bahr
The judges for the miniature show at the Dubois 2015 workshop hosted by the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation admired the technical ability on display in Deborah Day’s Best of Show painting “Butterfly Girl,” but chances are they sensed something more in that portrait.
Maybe it was her love for the subject, her granddaughter. “How many of you are grandparents out there?” Day asked as she accepted the award. “They automatically understand this painting. This is my granddaughter. She is my heartbeat.” Day explained further later, “I am very close with my granddaughter, Riley. I helped raise her. I am so passionate about our relationship. I never get tired of looking at her.”
Maybe it was that sense everyone has when watching a child play, that memory of what it was like to be unfettered in our dreams. “Partly, it’s a reflection of my youth, and I want to feed that in her,” Day admits. “It’s a self portrait, but not an image of me.”
Maybe the judges sensed Day’s giving heart. She is a registered nurse, as well as the owner and manager of a horseback riding outfit with 25 horses in California. And she works in a program called Eagle’s Wings, for victims of domestic violence, and leads Dream Nights, in which women who have been sex trafficked can explore their psyche and progress in the healing process. “I go to them or they come to the stable and ride horses. And in Dream Nights, we offer a creative way to get in touch with your ideas and get in touch with yourself. It’s part of the healing process.”
This is not an academic approach to artmaking. “It’s more about just playing with materials. It makes for a way to dialogue about our hopes and dreams and the challenges between us and that. We have exercises and some problem solving to tackle some of those barriers. The fun thing with that is some of the multimedia things have filtered into my work. I still paint naturalistically, but now I incorporate a lot more design into things. I’ll do an abstract design and then do a painting on top.”
Maybe the judges sensed that Day was new to figure painting; maybe they felt a freshness about it. “I want to study more portait painting and take figure drawing classes. In this series of paintings I am doing, the figures are other people but it’s the memory I have of doing those things. There’s an intensity that I capture because of this.”
Maybe the judges could tell that when Day is painting, it is precious time for her. With all that she has going on, she has to work hard to make time to make art.
But maybe, most of all, the judges understood what that little Butterfly Girl was feeling. She felt she could fly. She knew she could fly. Ω