Deborah Colter: Design for painting

Deborah Colter in her Edgartown studio.

Deborah T. Colter is an abstract painter who organizes earthly chaos into sophisticated design.

“I am interested in the [patterns] we have set-up on the earth,” she says, itemizing such things as the layout of fields, roads, shopping malls, all of which are the inspiration for much of her work.

In addition to those tangible images, she says, “I have always worked with the images in my mind and in my life. Memories are always there. They peek out from behind other objects.”

That Ms. Colter’s father was an architect seems to support her approach to painting: Organization through structure. “I love the thought of how we organize space and our lives,” she says.

Her canvases are composed of a combination of methodical arrangements of rectangular and square shapes embellished with line and often punctuated with a selective focal point of color that lends clarity and emphasis to the rest of the canvas. She works in acrylic, building up layers of color, and collage elements to create texture and patterns by scraping, rolling, scribing, scratching, and using dripping techniques to achieve the desired effects.

“My goal is complex simplicity,” she says. “There has to be order and balance.”

She began working in collage and paint, showing at the Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven. For the past few years, Ms. Colter has been represented by the Cousen Rose Gallery on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Gallery owner Zita Cousens says, “In the beginning she created collages, but over time she has evolved, becoming more abstract. Now she is totally abstract.”

“I used my early collage work to find my new voice,” Ms. Colter says, “but I had no desire to do this in a small way. I knew I wanted to dedicate my time to real work.”

This winter she shifted out of her proven successful comfort zone to begin interpreting aerial images of land patterns she accessed on the Internet.

“It is very easy to live in a cocoon as an artist and it is very isolated here,” she explains. “I couldn’t survive here without the Internet. The connections you make online are so valuable.”

She uses the Internet fully, regularly spending time on Facebook, Twitter, and blogging in order to market her work, make connections, and learn.

“Blogging forces you to put into words what you are doing and why you are doing it.” Her efforts have proven profitable. “I could not have done half or three-quarters as much business if it had not been for the website and the Internet,” she admits.

An astute businesswoman, Ms. Colter is currently showing in several exhibits, has new galleries in Atlanta and New York showing her paintings, and markets paintings through a corporate art consultant in Boston, and accepts commissions.

“You have to push yourself very hard when you work alone,” she says of her disciplined work-week.

Ms. Colter studied at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Her focus was printmaking. She says, “I like the elements of surprise that come from compressing elements with the paint.”

She has long time connections with the Island, from the time she was a child and vacationed here with her family. Once the family bought a home on the Island she began to come for the summers. During one summer she met her husband, Richard Colter, and eventually settled in Edgartown to raise a family. Through all, she continued painting.

Ms. Colter explains she likes to keep moving, changing, and learning. “I love to paint big,” she says, and varies the sizes of canvas in order to challenge herself. “I like to fluctuate the sizes of my work — it keeps me thinking.”