Deb Mortl: Artist in Residence at Spirit Lake Preserve
August 29, 2022 | Topics: featured artist
The Natural Realm presents Deb Mortl, who is among 11 artists participating in a year-long residency program called ARTservancy, a collaboration between Gallery 224 in Port Washington and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, River Revitalization Foundation, Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy, Tall Pines Conservancy, and Milwaukee County Parks Department. The mission of ARTservancy is to promote the visionary work of both the artists and conservationists. Each artist has selected a preserve to spend time in and to engage with.
Artist Statement by Deb Mortl
My landscape paintings have evolved from traditional and representational to a more non-objective style as I try to capture the essence of the landscape through removing unnecessary and distracting details. With the age of digital photography and the ease and immediacy of the medium, I think representation is better left for the camera. My paintings feel more idealistic when I focus on color and texture in my composition and let the layers of color resonate against each other. Abstract landscapes become more open-ended, letting the viewer decipher their own personal meaning from them.
I rarely start with a plan for my paintings, it is more of a negotiation with the painting itself as it progresses. I use a palette rich in earthy blues, greens and browns, with gold and reds thrown in for good measure. I build many, many transparent layers until the surface becomes weathered, filled with color and texture. The veils of color from previous layers are allowed to show through, much like the layers of different vegetation that make up the prairie.
Shortly after learning I was chosen to be Artist in Residence at Spirit Lake for 2022, I took a late afternoon walk around the preserve. The Packers had just defeated the Bears 24-14, and the sun was low in the autumn sky. Everything was backlit and glowing. I knew then that I’d find inspiration there.
I am an oil painter and art teacher. I trace my love of art to the time when I painted with my grandfather who lived on the Milwaukee River. My grandfather painted landscapes, and when I was in grade school, we painted together. He was my first art teacher and my inspiration.
I grew up in Glendale, went to Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, and then attended Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), graduating with a degree in fine arts. For six years I worked as a medical illustrator and photographer at Children’s Hospital. Then I decided to pursue a career in art therapy. I graduated from Mt. Mary with a masters degree in art therapy. After working in the field briefly, I went back to school again at Carroll University to gain the courses needed to be an art teacher.
I taught briefly at my alma mater, Dominican High School before settling in at Cedarburg High School, which is where I have been for the last twenty-three years. I love teaching, and every day is different. Teaching art also makes me a better artist. I see how my students problem-solve on their projects and it has an impact on my own paintings.
Most of my paintings stay in Cedarburg on exhibit at the Pink Llama Gallery, go to a gallery in northern Wisconsin called Moondeer & Friends in Boulder Junction, or to Fine Line Gallery & Sculpture Garden in Ephraim, Door County.
To learn more about Spirit Lake go to our Find-a-Park page.
This residency is sponsored by Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.
This is the latest in our series of featured artists, which is intended to showcase the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. To see a list of previously featured artists, click here. The work of the 2019-2020 ARTservancy artists in residence is currently being exhibited monthly at Gallery 224. To meet the other ARTservancy artists in residence, click here.
All images of paintings courtesy of the artist. Photographs by Eddee Daniel, curator of The Natural Realm. Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.