The CONTEMPORARY PAINTER
Deb Gooch paints nearly every day in her studio on Seventh Avenue in Vero Beach. ED DRONDOSKI
BY JANIE GOULD
Vero Beach artist Deborah Gooch, known for her striking paintings that fuse elements of realism with those of abstract expressionism, started drawing as soon as she could hold a crayon.
She grew up in horse country outside Baltimore, Md., where the physical environment of rolling hills and old homes combined with the creative instincts of her parents nurtured her love for art, along with her love of horses.
“I had a great childhood,” she said. “I remember being a Brownie Scout and they had a drawing competition. I struggled doing a drawing of Black Beauty. I can remember crying and my dad coming into the room and trying to comfort me.”
She said the sketch was terrible and certainly didn’t win a prize, “but I still have it somewhere, tucked away in a box of memories.”
Gooch studied painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She worked as a commercial illustrator and designer in Maryland and later in Florida, where she and her husband, Jim, have lived for 30 years. In Vero Beach, she has established herself as a respected contemporary painter who has a loyal fan base of artists and art lovers.
“When I look at her work, two things come to mind,” fellow artist Barry Shapiro said. “First, the range and the wonderful imagination she brings to her canvas. Second, the level of talent. Look closely and see the drawing skills and the ‘painterly’ quality of her work – it’s truly astounding. In a city with a large art community and a wealth of talent, Deb Gooch stands out as a cut above.”
As a classically trained artist who taught at the Vero Beach Museum of Art, Gooch said her work is grounded in realism. She pushed herself beyond the “tried and true” fundamentals of that style and ventured into abstraction. Her current output, in acrylics and oil, shows elements of both: fanciful abstract images that emanate from a focal point that is intensely realistic, such as an image of a raven, a piece of fruit or, not surprisingly to anyone who knows her, a horse. Formerly a horsewoman and always a passionate advocate for animals, Gooch and her husband owned the Winter Beach Horse Farm in Indian River County for 20 years.
Gooch and artist Dawn Miller were among those who started Gallery 14 in downtown Vero Beach.
“At that time, Deb was doing gutsy figural work often inspired by social commentary, family and her deep love of animals,” Miller said. “She’s become enamored of abstract expressionism over the last several years and finds unique and colorful ways to combine her superb drawing skills and passions with that genre.”
Gooch honed her skills with color when she and Jim spent parts of 10 summers in Taos, N.M. They had a home high in the mountains, giving Gooch the opportunity to paint the stunning scenery that surrounded them. As part-time antiques dealers, the couple also gained appreciation for the art and antiquities of the Southwest. Deb helped start the annual antiques show at the museum.
In April, with Jim about to retire from his career in sales, the couple was planning to go to Taos again when a health scare intervened. Doctors discovered a benign tumor “the size of two golf balls” in Deb’s brain. She underwent 11 hours of surgery, followed by radiation. That was in April. In May, she appeared at her studio and gallery at 2304 7th Ave., for a reception and sale of her paintings and those of others. It wasn’t much later before she was painting again. Now, despite some lingering health issues, she paints nearly every day and also leads weekly group sessions for advanced painters.
Retired architect George Pillorgé, who attends the sessions, took a class from Gooch at the museum on drawing the human figure.
“She was the perfect teacher for me because she was very encouraging, always precise in helping me to see and draw the model’s correct proportions and abstract shapes in the loose, painterly style I wanted to learn,” Pillorgé said.
Gooch has no plans to stop doing what she loves.
“As you get older, you realize that if you don’t use your particular skill or talent, you’re going to lose it, so that’s what keeps me going,” she said.
Hometown: Vero Beach
Occupation: Contemporary painter
Education: Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore
Family: Husband, Jim; brother, Mark Kirby, a painter; and nephews Gabriel and Jason, “both of whom are artistic.”
What I am proudest of: “That I have had moderate success with things I have pursued,” including founding Gallery 14, a downtown Vero Beach art gallery; teaching at the Vero Beach Museum of Art and helping start the museum’s annual antiques show.
Something people don’t know about me: “That I am a horse person and an advocate for animals.”