Deborah Rhee

Image Courtesy of Margaret Millmore

Island Wanderings: Deborah Rhee

Deborah Rhee is an Australian-born contemporary abstract painter who moved to the United States with her husband and daughter in 2010.  Their first stop was Dallas, Texas, where Deborah built a client base that she’s still…

Deborah Rhee is an Australian-born contemporary abstract painter who moved to the United States with her husband and daughter in 2010. 

Their first stop was Dallas, Texas, where Deborah built a client base that she’s still actively involved in today. When the opportunity arose to move to the San Francisco Bay Area, Deborah and her family jumped at it, knowing it would expand their experiences and adventures in their new country. However, like many have experienced (myself included), San Francisco and the Bay Area can be overwhelming, and the desire to find a simpler and quieter life was always lingering.

With relatives on Bainbridge Island, the next new adventure seemed obvious. As she told me, “After three moves to three states in eight years, I am forever starting again!” However, starting again is something Deborah embraces, it expands her perspective and has exposed her to new ways of expressing her art.  

Her primary medium is oil and glaze. Its sculptural qualities allowing for brush strokes, scraping, scratching and adding layers of color inspire Deborah to paint expressive works of colorful light and intriguing deep texture, creating abstract paintings that spark the imagination and ignite the visual senses. 

In 2016, she moved away from her canvases and began experimenting with art journaling. For Deborah, journaling has developed into a cathartic and introspective practice that has heavily influenced the way she now works her canvases. It has become a wonderful outlet for her to reflect on herself, her life and where she wants to see herself in the future.  She’s since returned to painting on canvas, but has continued the journaling as she feels one informs the other and expands her means of expression. 

More recently, Deborah discovered that she is an Aphant, a condition characterized by an inability to voluntarily visualize mental imagery. This discovery was surprising to her, as she’s spent so much of her life as a practicing artist, but it has given her more understanding of how and why she creates. In her words, “It just may be the visual externalization to realize the internal world, somewhat using the canvas and paint as a visual surrogate.” 

This makes sense to Deborah, as her process has always been purely instinctual (without planning), and intuitive, driven by feelings. As she defines it, “I have often thought the way sculptors say ‘the clay reveals the object hidden within’ also describes the way I feel about my canvas and paints. The way forward reveals itself with each step I take, which for many artists may seem a reversal of process. The technical term for this is ‘extended imagining.’ The benefit for me is I am constantly surprised and engaged when working as every step is a discovery of sorts. I observe and participate as the process manifests my inner world.”

Her studio is a solitary space on the lower level of her home, where she feels free from distractions and can explore the emotions that drive her paintings, allowing her to better know herself. Her choice of palette reflects her mood, and the brushstrokes reflect her creative energy. Although she’s frequently inspired and influenced by the beautiful environment of the island, she often finds that her paintings are the result of her personal conversations with herself, which infuse a sort of alchemy into her work.

“I can enter the studio feeling anxious or struggling with something,” she explains, “and come out after a painting session having sorted through the issue in conversation with myself while I create.” In these challenging times, she’s found this process to be a valuable resource to maintain stability and strength. 

At present she is working on pieces for her June 2021 solo show for the First Friday Art Walk at the Bainbridge Island Library and participating in a new painting course on pattern and shape. Currently, her work can be found at Millstreamon Winslow Way and on her website.

Deborah’s work has been exhibited in galleries across the United States, throughout Australia, and here on Bainbridge Island. In addition, she recently participated in the Arts & Humanities Bainbridge fundraiser for Bainbridge Youth Services. She also provides complementary consultations for commissioned work, which can be shipped domestically and internationally.

Margaret Millmore is a supernatural fiction author and blogger, living on Bainbridge Island with her husband, Bryan. Her first published works were flash fiction, The Welcome Home and Untitled – Luke N. Goode,  which were featured on Bay Area artist, Kenny Mencher’s blog. In 2011 she published her first full length novel, since then she’s published a three book series, another novel and her current series (via Next Chapter Publishing – formerly Creativia Publishing) What Haunts Me (Ghost Killer Book 1); The Edge of the Cemetery (Ghost Killer Book 2), which was awarded the August 2016 Book of the Month award by Long and Short Reviews; and What Hunts Me (Ghost Killer Book 3). The majority of her books are set in San Francisco where she lived—previous to island life—for over 26 years. Her preferred writing genre is supernatural fiction, with the exception of her time-travel novel, The Dragonfly Door. In addition to her novels, Margaret writes a blog, called The Island Wanderer – which focuses on people, events and businesses on Bainbridge Island: All her books can be found on her website and her Amazon Author page.