Debra Bucci is a positive force, and her passion for life and investment in the happiness of others is evident in her work. As she puts it, "paintings are all about personal connection."
"I want someone to have an emotional connection to my work," she says. "When I'm painting, I'm thinking about emotional stability and positive steps forward and I want to share that with others.
"I have to put the magic in," she adds, with a warm laugh.
And if the magic doesn't emerge in a piece that she is working on, it doesn't get to leave her studio.
Bucci's paintings, well-known for their vibrancy and skillful combination of realism and whimsy, most often depict elements of the natural world and wildlife settings. Her signature uses of remarkable detail and energetic color palettes come together in images that are both widely recognizable and personally affecting. Her skill in layering the oils that she prefers to work in results in complex works with palpable energy.
She paints a lot of willow trees, attracted by their complex root systems and the nostalgic feeling they evoke.
"People have these intense connections to willows," she says. "They often think about life, its challenges and the process of looking for their own strength when they see them."
In "Under the Willow," which was featured on this year's American Craft Walk promotional poster, Bucci's ability to tap into the emotional content of her subject matter is front and center.
The painting features her current favorite palette of "coastal colors" -- blues, greens, and their complements. Developed on the backdrop of a pale orange sunset, the tree's lively, colorful roots begin in the bottom left corner of the canvas. Winding up and over to the right of the composition, these undulating tubers -- highlighted by a dreamy yellow and deep purple -- gradually turn into the branches and long, dangling leaves of the tree. Hundreds of tiny leaves seem to move with a light breeze, gently lifting and falling, an effect achieved by dynamic line work and a laborious layering of paint. The sinuous subject reaches up and out with its leaves and down into the solid ground with its roots, representing a tension many of us have felt in our own lives.
Bucci often writes poetic sentences to accompany her paintings, encouraging viewers to find a connection to the content or mood of the piece. Her message accompanying "Under the Willow" reminds viewers that a support system can help keep us grounded and flexible at the same time.
"Usually when I paint willows they are quiet and still," she writes. "These are blowing in the wind. This willow feels like change is coming, but that's okay. When you are rooted in family and friends, then you can bend and flow with life's changes."
Bucci moved to the Wilmington area from Pennsylvania about a year and a half ago. She was quickly introduced to the arts community by her friend and owner of Art in Bloom Gallery, Amy Grant, and was floored by local support for visual artists.
"The people here love artists!" she says. "I've never seen a community that is so embracing of artists of all kinds. What really gets me is that you can go into almost any business in this area and see beautiful work hanging on the walls. Local artists have their artwork all over the place, in restaurants and businesses, and that's just the best thing ever."
Bucci describes herself as constantly experimenting and says she'll likely branch into other mediums in the future. For now, the appeal of oil painting lies in the variety of color and the physicality of applying thick paint to canvas.
"I'm obsessed with colors and I love putting paint onto the canvas," she says. "I love starting with the blank white, using a great big brush, getting that first coat on and then coming back the next day. I love letting it evolve, layer by layer, day by day. Even the texture of paint; I love how you can thin it out to almost no paint and it floats on the canvas and then you can put it on so thick and heavy."
The love and excitement that drives Bucci is particularly visible in her floral paintings, often featuring calla lilies, poppies, orchids, and tulips. These pieces honor the beauty of their subject matter and celebrate the potential of the medium. They feature impossibly bright colors, high contrast, and creative paint applications.
Bucci's finished works range from simple -- like "Climbing Poppies," which has a tight, straightforward composition, bright orange and yellow highlights, and an almost watercolor-thin paint application -- to complex and intellectually challenging, like "Awakening," which is among her biggest pieces.
This painting features a pale pink beauty from a close, aerial perspective. Bucci grants the central flower, flanked by two smaller buds, an impossible number of petals, and it unfurls for the entire length and breadth of the canvases. Using subtle changes in color and gray rather than the harsher black for shadows, she creates a controlled but mesmerizing piece.
The detail and color work is impressively naturalistic, yet the depth of field seems almost too deep to be true to life. The effect is an image of otherworldly beauty that, like most of her paintings, prompts an emotional reaction. One can read this piece as a reflection of the complexity of our experiences, highlighting and celebrating how life's profundity can be as overwhelming as it is beautiful.
Bucci notes that color is always central in her work, but she is working on elevating the way she employs contrast. This is evident in works like "Waves of Renewal," which represents a gorgeous seaside view. Her trademark vibrancy is present, and she captures mesmerizing jewel tones that seem to shine in permeating sunlight.
She employs subtle exaggeration, creative colors, and playful brushstrokes to invite the viewer to step into an idealistic scene. Waves crash gently and pool in elaborate overlap on the shore, set below a Rubenesque sky of bright, fluffy clouds. The color palette is special and exciting, but controlled.
Bucci's newest pieces showcase more elaborate settings and comprise many smaller sections of geometric shapes and color. These in-progress paintings are imbued with the same energy and passion as all of Bucci's oeuvre, but are a departure in technique inspired by the work of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).
A symbolist best known for his figure studies and use of gold leaf, Klimt's work involved deeply emotional content and compositions made up of infinitesimal numbers of small shapes, brush strokes, and colors. Symbolism in the visual arts was a more philosophical than stylistic movement. Klimt was one of a loose band of artists who made work emphasizing the meaning behind the elements of painting. Their artwork privileged emotion, symbolic meaning, and subjectivity and reflected the intimate feelings of their creators.
Bucci's recent paintings depict sweeping, complex gardenscapes. In pieces like "Planting Seeds," dotted with flowers in blues, purples, yellows and pinks, she recreates the tension one might feel in a large public garden or even a maze. The setting is beautiful, but visually complicated and very high energy; the viewer oscillates between a relaxing and engaging aesthetic experience.
"Parts of the gardens are obstacles and there is that tension in the paintings," she explains. "But life is tension. I want these paintings to acknowledge the tension, but make you feel better after you've looked at it."
Reinforcing happiness and positivity, for herself and her viewers, is always at the forefront of her thoughts.
"I'm all about living in the moment, lifting people up and lifting myself up; appreciating every day and not always looking 20 years down the road," she says.
Bucci has a remarkable ability to effortlessly and graciously inspire the people around her, a gift on full display in her oil paintings. She plans to open her unique home studio to the public and is excited to invite the community in to interact with her and her work.