Artist Deborah Colter guides her paintings to where they want to go


Deborah T. Colter, the newest artist represented by the Louisa Gould Gallery, compares her abstract paintings to another form of art. “I think of my work as a form of visual poetry,” she says. “Poetry can be kind of obscure but still be absolutely gorgeous. With my work, you may not be sure what you’re looking at, but it can still affect you. You just have to be there and allow the magic to happen.”

As with lyric poetry, where the expression is less about narrative and more about rhythm and sounds and the juxtaposition of words and imagery, Colter’s mixed-media works contain many unrelated elements that combine to create a flow and invoke a mood.

Colter builds up each piece using layers of acrylic paint, painted paper, and other collage elements, along with bits of drawing made with charcoal, pastels, or crayons. She also sometimes scrapes away at the existing paint to add further markings and texture.

Each piece has a color scheme — exploring variations of a single hue, sometimes punctuated with a small pop of another color. Colter doesn’t stick to one palette. The work currently on display at the gallery ranges from the bold blues of “Reflections of the Deep End” to the gold and yellow tones of “Enchanted Desire” to bright reds and oranges in “Looking Ahead.” The color is the only coalescing element, which provides a soothing quality uniting otherwise random imagery.

The artist starts with one element and then proceeds from there. As she writes in her artist’s statement, “Inspiration starts with a mark, a color, a form, a layer, and it builds from there. I refuse to be bound by a specific direction or an expected outcome.”

Explaining her process in a phone interview, Colter says, “I set out to allow the work to develop itself. I let the paintings take on a life of their own. I just allow myself to be a guide. I let them go where they want to go.”

There’s a lot to examine, both in plain view and just beneath the surface. Each piece is built up of many layers. Colter creates her own painted collage papers, and sometimes adds other elements, like a piece of a tide chart or scraps she has saved from her children’s schoolwork. Some images just barely appear beneath the layers of paint. Recently she has been experimenting with image transfer — using photographs or other found images, like the scientific rendering of a fish found in a painting titled “Time and Tide.”

“I like to try to find lots of different elements in a piece so that your eye will move around the entire painting,” says Colter. “I don’t want people to get stuck in one particular area. I don’t want to be limited to one point of focus.”

The artist studied at Rhode Island School of Design, where she says that she received a pretty traditional education. For her senior project, she focused on abstraction. “I thought it was more interesting to be creating from within,” she says. That was the beginning of a long and successful professional life as an artist.

Colter and her husband moved to Martha’s Vineyard more than 30 years ago, and they raised two children on the Island. Recently they moved from Edgartown to Aquinnah. In the past, Colter has shown her work at a number of Vineyard galleries, including the Field Gallery, Cousen Rose, the Eisenhauer Gallery, and the Shaw Cramer Gallery. Three of Colter’s paintings were selected by Home and Garden Television for the 2015 Martha’s Vineyard Dream Home project.