Debra Hood studied Fine Arts at an affiliate school of East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School) in Sydney. She thanks her high school art teachers Jim Matsinos and Petina Alexander, ‘who inspired so many young people from Port Macquarie to venture into the big wide world to chase art careers’ for the fact art is now her full-time job.
In Debra’s home studio, an old timber paint box that once belonging to her godfather sits on the desk. Dr. Eric Murphy was a major inspiration to Debra, as have been Mark Rothko, Margaret Olley, Kathleen O’Connor and Jeffrey Smart. But it was meeting Susan O’Doherty at Doggett Street Studio in 2001, though, that really spurred her on. ‘I asked Susan, “What advice would you give a person who wants to make a successful career as an artist? Her answer was to “simply paint what you know and paint what’s around you, AND work within your community on art projects as much as possible” – light bulb moment!’ retells Debra, who today offers her free time to not-for-profit community group, Southside Art Market.
The in-demand artist retreats into her studio ‘haven’ daily, typically painting from afternoon to early the next morning! When we visit, Tugulawa to Humbug Reach is a work-in-progress. This commission features Southside suburbs running alongside the Brisbane River, along with landmarks and personal elements – pets, children, past houses – sentimental to its commissioner. The process of creating a work such as this begins with a photograph (or a drive out to capture one), before proceeding to the canvas, to start creating a ‘fake’ tiered cityscape. Debra then develops the layers of her painting, dark colours to light, before finishing off the smallest details – the tiniest ever being a two-millimetre depiction of a pet baby turtle, called Chrissie Little!
‘While on the surface, my paintings are considered ebullient, there is always another underlying subversive narrative. I often sneak in small social/political comments that are current at the time of painting,’ Debra surprises me. One issue she’s passionate about is ‘so-called development’ in Brisbane’s inner suburbs, where irreplaceable heritage ‘timber and tin’ houses are being unscrupulous destroyed. ‘It’s very sad to see that over the last 20 years my paintings have become a record of history, as many of the buildings are now gone,’ she explains. Tugulawa to Humbug Reach features five houses (on the left) and many 100-year-old Moreton Bay fig trees that were destroyed to widen a road by two lanes earlier this year.
When she’s not painting private commissions, Debra dives into public artworks. ‘I enjoy these immensely as they give me a connection to my community and provides a creative challenge, especially in terms of scale,’ she tells, highlighting her artwork on the Mooroolbin Brisbane City Cat!
Over the past couple of years, she has also begun to explore the options of designed products to support her painting practice. Giftware featuring her iconic artwork so far includes magnets, puzzles and, her favourite, a Brisbane ‘snow’ globe!!. ‘The Confetti Dome as I call it, is my token to Brisbane as a city of fun, colour, craziness, nostalgia and its self -deprecating embrace of its kitsch history,’ says Debra. ‘The products reflect the city’s unique light and playful, relaxed vibe in vibrant colours. Simply joyful and unpretentious!’
‘Nicely rounding out [her] life circle’, Debra and her husband are planning a studio/house build next year, based on those very same 1950s modernist house plans that graced the Lego-inspo magazines all those years ago! Also keep an eye out for her huge community art installation with Southside Artists Inc. as part of the world Unity Project this month, and a beautiful book, Confetti, created with her daughter Isabel Gibson Hood.