Artist connecting with the foothills



An artist with a life-long connection to the foothills hopes to connect with its citizens through her portraits and landscapes this month.

Deb McPhee is hanging her pastel and acrylic images on the walls of the Sheep River Library’s art gallery in Turner Valley this month with hopes of making a connection with viewers in her own stomping grounds.

“I hope my art can connect with people in a way that makes them feel happy, good and connected with nature,” said McPhee, who currently lives in Calgary. “I hope they actually get some sort of emotional reaction. We spend so much time on everything else and so little time on just connecting with parts of ourselves that get pushed aside.”

McPhee was born in High River and grew up in Nova Scotia, yet spent her summers in High River visiting relatives.

Since moving to Alberta 25 years ago she has lived in Calgary, High River and Bragg Creek.

This is the first time McPhee has showcased her art in a public gallery.

“It’s nerve wracking to put it out there because people have their opinion, but I also think it’s a bit of an honour,” she said. “How many people get the chance to show who they really are in their jobs? It’s a great chance to just put it out there and say, ‘This is who I am, this is what I am and if you can connect with it that’s an amazing feeling.’”

Art has always been a part of McPhee’s life. She has memories of drawing the other children on the bus on her way to school.

McPhee obtained an art degree at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, but never fully pursued her talent until recently.

“You get a job, you get married and life happens,” she said. “With all of that, everything just got pushed to the side.”

McPhee said the urge to create was always there, but it wasn’t until six years ago that she couldn’t hold it back anymore.

“It started to really draw me back in and about two or three years ago I really wanted to get serious about it,” she said. “It’s something that you just push away for a while, but it keeps coming back. I guess I decided it was time to stop ignoring it and just go with it and trust that’s what I needed to be doing.”

With the inspiration of the Alberta landscape, McPhee has been taking photographs and setting up her easel to incorporate her own interpretations of the landscape in the foothills and some western states including Utah and Arizona.

“My whole focus really is to try and capture beauty and the feeling of what the landscape inspires in me,” she said. “If I can help someone to feel and see the beauty of what’s out there, the beauty of what life is about, even if it’s for a short period, how can you not be proud of that?”

Most of McPhee’s interpretation in her work is through the use of colour.

“It has the power to influence people’s emotions, it has the power to uplift,” she said. “You can take a look at a colour and immediately feel an emotional reaction to it.”

McPhee said art gives her a sense of joy.

“Everybody looks for what makes them happy in life and that makes me happy,” she said. “When I start working time just disappears. I can go into a studio and work for an hour and before you know it it’s the middle of the evening. Five hours later life has just kind of passed by.”

McPhee said art is something she feels she just has to do and it’s a big part of who she is.

“For me it’s the ultimate form of expression,” she said. “Here’s who I am and you could take it or leave it.”

Revealing herself to the public isn’t easy, but it’s something McPhee will have to face as she showcases more of her work.

“That’s probably one of the biggest issues with artists is when you go to a regular day-to-day job most people aren’t invested in the outcome of what’s going out there,” she said. “When you do this form of expression with art you are actually leaving a little bit of you out there and putting it on display.”