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Art People: Debra Dunphy | painter

  • Debra Dunphy poses for a portrait, Friday, in her Canal Gallery studio. Her paintings "Illumination" and "Ocean View" are displayed, at back.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Debra Dunphy poses for a portrait, Friday, in her Canal Gallery studio. Her paintings "Illumination" and "Ocean View" are displayed, at back.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Debra Dunphy poses for a portrait, Friday, in her Canal Gallery studio. Her painting "Illumination" is displayed, at back.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Debra Dunphy poses for a portrait, Friday, in her Canal Gallery studio. Her painting "Illumination" is displayed, at back.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ocean View, a painting by Debra Dunphy, is displayed, Friday, in her Canal Gallery studio in Holyoke.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Ocean View, a painting by Debra Dunphy, is displayed, Friday, in her Canal Gallery studio in Holyoke.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dominito Steakhouse, a painting by Debra Dunphy, depicts a steakhouse in Northampton. The piece, displayed Friday, hangs in Dunphy's Canal Gallery studio in Holyoke.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Dominito Steakhouse, a painting by Debra Dunphy, depicts a steakhouse in Northampton. The piece, displayed Friday, hangs in Dunphy's Canal Gallery studio in Holyoke.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Debra Dunphy poses for a portrait, Friday, in her Canal Gallery studio. Her paintings "Illumination" and "Ocean View" are displayed, at back.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Debra Dunphy poses for a portrait, Friday, in her Canal Gallery studio. Her painting "Illumination" is displayed, at back.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Ocean View, a painting by Debra Dunphy, is displayed, Friday, in her Canal Gallery studio in Holyoke.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Dominito Steakhouse, a painting by Debra Dunphy, depicts a steakhouse in Northampton. The piece, displayed Friday, hangs in Dunphy's Canal Gallery studio in Holyoke.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

Debra Dunphy calls herself an experimental artist and says she has not yet found her niche (although, she admits, she’s not really looking for one). She paints landscapes, still lifes and anything else that strikes her fancy, in oils, watercolors, pastels, colored pencils and charcoal, on a variety of surfaces, including canvas and cloth.

“I’m always searching,” said Dunphy, 51, in an interview last week in her studio at Canal Galleries in Holyoke, where she’s been painting and teaching art classes for 10 years. “I don’t feel that I’m going to rest, to say, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”

Dunphy, who lives in Northampton, does have a particular affinity for portraiture — something she was dazzled by as a young girl, when she watched her mother and grandmother draw portraits. “I was amazed by it,” she said, “that you could do something like that with your own free hand.”

These days, while she remains passionate about portraiture, she’s as likely to be drawn to subjects like a Victorian-era hat, or a puppy sunning on a porch in Martha’s Vineyard, or boats docked in New Bedford, where she grew up. But whatever, or whomever, she paints, she says, her goal remains the same: to capture something essential about her subject. To that end, she paints things that she feels connected to — like her hometown. “There’s so much of my personal history in my paintings,” she said.

Her latest exhibit, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation,” a shared show on view this month in the Locust Gallery at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton with her husband, John Dunphy, features paintings of their favorite vacations spots.

One is of the T.T. Gillie, a fishing boat that has been in the same spot on the New Bedford dock as long as Dunphy can remember. She and her grandfather would walk by it when she was a child. “He used to tell me it was my uncle’s boat,” she said, although, in truth, it was not.

“It’s one of those paintings that seemed to come easily. It was already a part of me before I painted it,” she said. “These boats have so much mystery for me: How far they’ve gone. What they’ve seen. I had family members who were fishermen; some got stuck in storms. It’s scary. It’s a really difficult life.”

Last summer, while sitting at dusk in a restaurant in New Bedford, she grabbed her camera and starting snapping pictures of the boats that were docked there.

“I loved the way the sun was setting on the boats. It was very peaceful, very tranquil,” she said.

Over the winter, she created paintings, “Ocean View” and “Illumination,” based on those photos, which are on view at CDH.

“I take special moments and make them into paintings. You remember everything. What it smelled like. The weather. What you were thinking. Who you were with. It all ties in,” she said. “That helps keep that feeling alive.”

— Kathleen Mellen

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