Culture Envy: Exploring ceramic art tiles with Deb Chaney

The contemporary abstract artist shares the journey of her recent project and future plans

Deb Chaney's installation series in Lonsdale entitled “Take it Away”. (Submitted)

Deb Chaney’s installation series in Lonsdale entitled “Take it Away”. (Submitted)

Before Deb Chaney began the “Take it Away” series for the installation project in North Vancouver’s Lonsdale neighbourhood in 2019, she didn’t know anything about outside public art.  

Her artwork, which was completed in June, is displayed in front of Crest, Adera Developments’ new residential building in the city. Before construction, Adera was looking for artist proposals for the project, and Chaney was one of the 350 artists who applied.  

Before applying, Helga Godinho and Mario Rosada, the Canadian representatives of Viúva Lamego, had been following Chaney’s work for years and reached out to collaborate on a proposal.   

Viúva Lamego is a factory studio in Portugal that works with artists worldwide to re-create their artwork into handmade tiles for public art display.  

Chaney says the most exciting and intimidating aspect of the two-year project was the shortlisting process of finding an artist.  

“I know nothing about public art. I show up, and the building’s at ground zero and I get to meet all the other artists that were shortlisted. That was intimidating because they were all talking public art speak,” says Chaney. “They knew everything. I was like the new kid on the first day of school.”  

After being accepted for the installation, for inspiration Chaney noticed the building was designed by Integra Architecture and defined as ‘West Coast living at its best.’ She decided Lynn Valley headwaters park, a 10-minute drive from the Crest property, would be the best spot. 

The “Take it Away” series features four paintings using acrylic colours, textured cardboard, and charcoal elements to resemble the nature landscape of the park.  

From Portugal to Montreal to Vancouver, over 2,000 tiles weighing 749kg arrived forChaney and her team at the Foot of Main Gallery to begin the installation process.  

The tiles had to be set up in a grid pattern system with a letter and number on the back to install the tiles. The process consisted of using mapelastic 315, a common construction cement-based product for installing ceramic tiles or stones. Using this product helped prevent future cracks in the cement in case the wall shifts or cracks. Then to ensure accurate spacing between the tiles, Chaney and her team used wooden one eighth of an ⅛ inch spacers removed after the tiles became dry. They also used a level to make sure tiles were aligned accurately.  

“There’s a part of me that gets a thrill from something that seems impossible,” she says.

“I wanted to cry. I was always focused on managing it, and so when I drove up in North Vancouver and it was near the end of it, it was just like this overwhelming emotion like I was kind of crying and shaking and just going, ‘Oh my god, this happened and we did it.’”  

Now that the installation project is completed, Chaney says for the future she is beginning to write a book called “Abstract Painting for Personal Empowerment,” which features 13 of her best paintings over the last 20 years and what she has learned from them and her healing process.  

Over the past 20 years as an artist, Chaney says mental wellness has been the most significant thing she has learned. She also says it’s really important for artists to have a deep sense of self and confidence.  

“Believing in yourself is the most challenging thing because the world is noisy and people have their criticisms, and there’s a lot of distractions in the world,” says Chaney.  

“I started from nothing 20 years ago, and it’s taken some time. I’ve been doing this for a while, but it’s possible for anyone that wants this and puts their mind to it. Anything is possible.”