Deborah T. Colter’s unique sense of place gives her work a rare perspective. “My mind constantly takes in everything,” she says. “Then I try to turn it off and see what happens.”
The names of her mixed media works are fascinating clues, but Colter’s paintings hold much unknown territory. “I love color; I love textures, those elements of finding the mystery of what we see every day, when we look down from an airplane, or through the fog,” she says. “Even open space has a lot going on.”
Growing up with an architect father, Colter was introduced to graphic design and geometric elements early on. “That was always part of my being,” she says. She sharpened her skills at the Rhode Island School of Design. On her summers off from RISD, she waited tables on Martha’s Vineyard, where she met her husband, Richard Colter. The parents of two sons, the Edgartown couple has been on the island now for 30 years.
In Colter’s work, even circles, lines, and squares are mysterious things. Bolstering the effect is her technical working style: a collage-like process of building layers of acrylic paint with paper and other materials, sanding the surface, scratching it, and building again. “I love building texture and patterns and making them speak their own tongues, talk to each other,” she says. Her challenge is nailing the relationship among them and the surrounding space: “There has to be order among chaos, a balance of energy, something that is alive, in motion, and yet motionless at the same time.”
Ultimately, Colter says, a painting needs to have a life, and achieving that is the ultimate gratification. “A painting is a world of its own,” she says. “Creating something out of nothing—it’s just magical to be able to do that.”