Debbie Yare is a visual artist based in the northwest of England. She creates wonderful drawings, paintings, and photographs that illuminate her relationship with the landscape around her. Writer Bill Bryson wrote of that area, “Morecambe Bay may be the most beautiful bay in Britain.” For a more in-depth view of her work, check out her website, Flickr, and Instagram.
I asked her eight questions about her work and her current projects.
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from, and where do you live now?
I’m a full-time artist from a village on Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, on the northwest coast of England. This is also where I am living and working now. I’ve moved around a bit and lived in other places, but was drawn back here because it is a great place to be.
What projects are you working on these days?
I make drawings, paintings, and photographs about the landscape and places I visit near my home. This involves a fair bit of wandering around and making work outdoors, as well as developing ideas in the studio. Various themes keep cropping up, such as the history of the landscape, the memories that lie there, and the memories we carry with us; and also, the bonds we form with certain places and how they can draw us back time and time again. I spend most of my time flitting between Morecambe Bay, on my doorstep, and the limestone hills to the north. These are fantastical places to me with a seemingly endless capacity to inspire, lift the spirits, and allow the imagination to roam. I’m also self-employed, so I need to spend time looking for relevant opportunities to show the work and trying to promote myself. It is one really big project that isn’t just about making work, but also about building a better life for myself and doing things that are important to me.
You describe on your website how your work is closely tied to how much walking you do. I’m curious about that creative loop. Do you think you would walk just as much if you weren’t creating art based on what you observe? And would you be creating art like this if you weren’t also a walker?
I live in a particularly inviting area, the majority of which can only be fully explored on foot. There is a rich history of walking the landscape here, and webs of footpaths criss-cross the countryside. I’ve been wandering around the area for as long as I can remember, and the first thing I do if I visit other places is buy a map! There is still so much to explore and discover. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I can’t imagine a parallel universe in which I’d be making work about anything else. I hope that means I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing!
You’re such a talented landscape photographer, though you told me that’s not how you chiefly see yourself—it’s one aspect of your art, not the total. That makes me think of the gap that often exists between how others might see our oeuvre, or one part of it, and how we ourselves see the body of our work. Can you explain a bit about where your landscape photos fit into the whole of your work, and what those images mean to you?
Thanks very much; I appreciate that. I’ve been taking photos for a long time but have no real technical knowledge or training in that area. Photography, like walking and drawing, is a way I can respond to the landscape directly, connect with it, and record various aspects of my experience. It only takes a moment to take a picture, so if I’m out with my camera I can be quite spontaneous with it. I’ve never planned a photograph. I like those elusive moments when everything seems to collide when you press the shutter. I enjoy being playful with the camera. I’m interested in creating compositions, but I also wonder what can be expressed through photography that goes beyond describing the landscape as a collection of objects and surfaces next to the horizon.
If you’d asked me the same question about drawing I would have said something pretty similar. I guess photography is just another tool in the toolbox really, and I really enjoy making images with my camera. I’m still just exploring and trying things out. I’m not sure if all the work I make works together as a whole visually, but it has all been made in the same spirit.
We all explore different themes in our work, and these tend to evolve over time. What are some themes you are paying more attention to these days, or what are some you find yourself devoting less energy to?
I’ve spent a lot of time this year looking at various processes. I’m also looking at what I’ve done, what I am doing, and trying to be honest with myself about what I’d like to achieve. This slightly painful form of self-evaluation has naturally brought me back to the coast, and out onto the expansive mudflats to explore some of my feelings about this amazing space on my doorstep. I’m also facing some fears about my ability to express open space, atmosphere, and emotion in my studio work.
I like the Japanese concept of “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku, or walking in the woods and enjoying their therapeutic benefits) and do this as often as I can near my home in eastern Canada. It is proven to be therapeutic in reducing stress and depression. Can you talk about the therapeutic benefits you’ve seen from walking outside, and the therapy of the creative process?
Yeah, there is plenty of research that supports the health benefits of walking and creativity, and I’ve worked with older people in a creative and therapeutic environment, so have seen some of this first hand. Art connects us with ourselves in a way we wouldn’t usually connect in everyday life, and walking connects us with places. So perhaps making art whilst walking in the landscape could be pretty therapeutic. It wasn’t until I hit dire straits with my own health in 2012 that I came to understand much more about this. I was in a situation where recovery wasn’t going to happen very soon, and I was trying to figure out what to do, and about the possibility of reviving my creative career. Whilst I was chewing this over I was walking up and down the coast with my camera, enjoying being creative for the first time in a while, and bathed in some relief at being back in my childhood home. I’d also been given some information about mindfulness, by my doctor, which I was reading and realising that mindfulness sounded very much like my photo walks and sketch trips. In fact my artistic walks had the added bonus of boosting confidence in the sense that I was making images, and also posting them online and receiving feedback. This really did set me on the road to recovery as well as eventually becoming part of my working practice. It completely changed the course of my life. Combinations of these activities could definitely help someone reduce their levels of stress and improve their mood, but given the right circumstances could also help someone in their recovery from a more serious health condition.
It is hard to summarise this so if any of your readers are interested there is a whole site dedicated to therapeutic photography here: https://theoneproject.co/
I like the beautiful muted tones in your paintings. Can you talk about the colour palette that you use?
Thanks; there are lots of earth colours in there that I really love. I don’t live in a particularly colourful area, so I hope the colour suits the landscape really. I also think these gentle tones are quite emotive, in the same way a faded photograph might evoke certain memories or emotions.
One final question: Can you tell me briefly about a couple of artists I may not be familiar with yet but you would recommend checking out?