Debbie Hanks never intended to be an artist.
But her thoughts, dreams and struggles needed a place to go, so she set them free in acrylic paint and mixed-media, reflecting realism, childish wonder, dreamy scenes, whimsical forms and the feminine spirit.
“Creating a piece of artwork is like working on a visual journal with giant pages,” she said. “My pieces can reflect an amazing experience or an issue that I am struggling to understand.”
Hanks, 40, grew up in Curlew, Wash., where she excelled in basketball and considered being a grade school teacher. She got pregnant her junior year and had a second child in her senior year. Without direction, she decided to join the Army for stability. She trained for a year and worked for two years analyzing intercepted signals at Fort Gordon in Georgia.
After her time in the service, she moved to the Spokane area where she floundered a bit, moved to Las Vegas for a change then back to the Spokane area. She enrolled at Spokane Community College where an assignment had her rethinking her life.
“It was for human relations in business class,” she explained. “We were asked to read three self-help books and do a report. Two of the books I chose were ‘Negaholics’ and ‘Learned Optimism’ and I realized that I had many symptoms of negativity.”
She attended Eastern Washington University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management and a new sense of self.
She began painting and expressing her desires, the secrets from her youth, and emotions she had locked away. She also took some art classes at Spokane Art School. With four kids in tow, she decided to transfer her job at a bank in Spokane to Hawaii, where she lived for a couple of years. “I wanted to experience so much,” she said. “A lot of my art and use of color is inspired by the time I spent there.”
In 2005, she moved back to the Spokane area and began exhibiting her work locally and in Seattle. “In Hawaii, they really embraced their culture. I wanted to immerse myself in my own culture and I had to go home, to the Northwest, to do that,” she said.
Memories of a somewhat turbulent childhood had her considering her present and future. She paints her hopes and fears with gusto; representing the peace and beauty she experiences in nature and the nuances of human nature as she struggles to find her role in the scheme of things.
One piece titled “The King and I” shows a woman wearing a crown. The woman’s almost defiant expression has been drawn on the faded pages of a dictionary as has a hand that serves as the perch for a bird. The woman is almost a tree with painted entryways where the bird is free to nest.
“Painting for me can, at times, be therapy and, at other times, a tribute to the beautiful moments and experiences in this world,” she said.