Debra Irvine featured as Artist of the Month in Breckenridge
IF YOU GO
What: Artist reception at Second Saturday art walk
Where: Arts Alive gallery, 500 S Main St., Breckenridge
When: Saturday, Jan. 8 from 4–8 p.m.
More information: Contact the gallery at (970) 453-0450
A politician and a painter — Debra Irvine always used to say those were the two things she wanted to be in life. While she’s done running for office, one thing that she will never let go is her artwork. Inspired by the mountains and Colorado’s notorious sunsets, she will be featured as January’s artist of the month at Arts Alive Gallery. There will be an opening reception from 4–8 p.m. with wine and cheese Saturday, Jan. 8.
Her biography is a long list of places and faces, accomplishments and defeats. Daughter of a military man, she lived in Germany, Italy and Belgium growing up. She was a ski racer in high school and college. She’s volunteered as a suicide hotline counselor, speaks four languages and has run as the Republican candidate for state representative in Colorado multiple times. With such an eclectic background, one thing she has always continued to remain passionate about is her painting.
She has never had any professional training in art but has always been the creative type. When she was younger, she was the child who was constantly drawing, painting and doing pottery — and, even now, she not only does acrylic work, but also crafts clothes and jewelry. Creativity runs in the family — on her Italian-born mother’s side, her uncle was a painter in Milan, and she had another uncle who was an artist in wrought iron.
Irvine began painting routinely just before she and her husband moved to Summit County full time in 2004. Her husband had a new job at NATO headquarters and had a large, empty white wall in his office.
“He said, ‘Well, I think I’d like to have something kind of modern or a painting for that wall,’ and I said, ‘Well I’ll make one for you,’” she said. “And I had never painted before. … He said, ‘Really, you could do that?’ And I said sure — not knowing that I could.”
At the time, they had already purchased land in Summit County, although they weren’t living there yet, and so she painted a photo of the Ten Mile Range, which is what the couple can see from their house.
“So I painted that, with a moon, it was this night scene, and painted it because he was away for three days on a business trip,” she said. “When he came back, he and I were both shocked that I did it. It was a lot of fun. That’s when I started.”
The couple moved to Summit County, and she continued to practice her painting, and, in 2007, her work was picked to be featured on the Breckenridge Oktoberfest mug. This was not only an honor to be chosen, she said, but it also had special meaning to her, as the mugs were manufactured by Paulaner, the brewing company in Munich, which is where she went to high school and college. A year later, she won the Breckenridge Ullr Fest poster contest.
With no formal training, she relies on her own creativity and her perception of what she wants her art to be.
“I wing it, I literally wing it,” she said. “There were times that I’ll paint something, and then I’ll step back — and my husband laughs at me all the time because I’ll do this — and I’ll start painting, and I just get into this mode. I paint very quickly … I get into this mode, and there are so many times that I will step back after I’ve been painting awhile … and I’ll think wow that’s really neat. Not really knowing what I’m doing.”
Although she mainly does landscapes, inspired by her surroundings, she has also painted family portraits, which she admits are much harder. She’s known for her ability to show shadows and light, she said, which is also one of the reasons she enjoys painting sky scenes as well. With the Ten Mile Range in view, the lighting changes all the time, and she’s been known to run out of her house to capture a sunrise at 4 in the morning with her camera to paint the scene later. She loves to capture the effects of light and get creative, as she did for one particular painting she did for a show.
“In order to get the effect I wanted, I … used paper towels, anything I could get my hands on just to try something different,” she said. “And that’s one of the things that I love about painting is because I’m not trained, and I have not had classes in it, that I like to figure it out. How could I make this part of the sky really pop, or highlight a cloud, and I like trying that, because then it’s my interpretation and I’m not following somebody else, and what somebody’s telling me I should do.”
INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNITY
Irvine comes from a very service-oriented family, and that reflects in the way she lives her life in the community. Not only had her father served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but her mother has been working with severely-wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center for years and continues to volunteer to this day at the age of 91.
After moving to Summit County from Brussels, Belgium, she wanted to make sure she was a part of the community and was giving back. She’s donated many paintings to charities to use in silent auctions, and her work can be viewed in St. Mary Catholic church in Breckenridge. The couple has hosted special events at their home for the Breckenridge Music Festival, including champagne concerts.
“The most important thing for me and my husband was to get involved in the community,” she said. “It makes such a difference.”
Irvine has been involved with Arts Alive, a cooperative gallery in Breckenridge, for more than six years.
“I like what they do, this is just another arm of being part and giving back to the community,” she said. “A percentage of what you sell goes back to different art projects and different programs, and so the community benefits from it.”
Her life in politics began when she was asked to work on campaigns, and she jumped in willingly due to her love for government, history and politics. She was chairman of Summit County Republicans for five years, and ran as the Republican candidate for state representative, House District 56 in 2010, and House District 61 in 2012 and 2014.
“My purpose was not for myself, it’s all part of this giving back to community, and really being part of the community,” she said. “The reason why I’ve run the times that I have run is to be a voice for different groups of people. That was my reason. I’ve told people that if you run for yourself, because you want the job, to fulfill whatever needs you have, if you lose — or when you lose — your ego will be shattered. Because people have asked, why have you done this so many times, and I say well, it’s not about me — and you come out of that and it’s a wonderful learning experience. You see all kinds of people’s personalities — the good side and the bad side — and … you come out of that with a greater sense of purpose and who you are.”
Of all the different paths her life has taken her on, the person that always holds her admiration and continues to influence Irvine is her mother. In 2008, she sent an application in describing the work her mother — a woman who will be 92 this March and continues to volunteer five days a week — does with wounded soldiers to L’Oreal for its Woman of Worth campaign. Out of over 3,000 nominees, her mother was selected as one of the top 10.
“It was really special to see her honored that way,” she said. “She’s one of millions of people in the world that do great work, and they give of themselves, and that’s something she has taught me. If you concentrate on the needs of other people, then your needs or things that are happening in your life will seem so much less important and so much less traumatic than what somebody else has. We are a service-oriented family, we have been a military family, so it’s not a question to volunteer for something and to give back to the community — it’s kind of a no-brainer for us.”
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