Through all the freewheeling, travelling days of her life, artist Deborah ‘Debsi’ Gillespie stayed true to her core objective – to capture the essence, or inner spirit, of those whose portraits she paints.
Judging from her work on Britain’s Queen Mother, now hanging amid other works she is exhibiting at Te Awamutu Library, nailing the likeness isn’t a problem. That pastels work is like a photographic image.
Also on the exhibition are portraits of family members and paintings depicting the aura and ‘spirit’ of gemstones, done primarily in pastels and oils.
“From the time I was 15, I’ve wanted to paint portraits. But more than that, I wanted to capture the spirit of the people I painted,” she said. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel compelled to use colour to portray the energy of a person… I call them inner spirit portraits.”
The London-born artist, who inherited creative genes from both her parents, has a fine arts degree from the UK’s University of Reading, where she specialised in the ‘feeling effects of colour’. She has travelled through Europe aboard the back of a boyfriend’s motorbike, been an au pair in America, a cook aboard Onassis-sized superyachts in Greece, and an art teacher of teens in Qatar. She also dabbled in Sufism, the mystic religious practice with its roots in the Islamic world.
Debsi came to New Zealand in 1986, and after living in the Hibiscus Coast and Whangarei, settled with her husband in Te Awamutu nine years ago. She established her home studio, from where she teaches and does commissioned portraits. She also exhibits when the opportunity arises.
More recently, Debsi added another string to her bow, having written and illustrated three children’s books, using watercolours for the first time. The first one has already been published, while books two and three are almost ready to go.