Kay Deuben and the Art of Living

The painter, teacher and breast cancer survivor does what she pleases. In March, that includes showing her work at the Brick City Center for the Arts.

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Posted February 18, 2022 | By Julie Garisto, Special to the Gazette

Kay Deuben teaching a class at The Brick City Center for the Arts. [Photos courtesy Marion Cultural Alliance]

While coping with a serious illness or the death of a loved one, supposedly imperative life goals and requisite material things begin to seem trivial.

Just ask Kay Deuben.

Now retired and in her mid-70s, the Palatka-based artist, teacher and three-time cancer survivor chooses to live her best life. She paints, exhibits her work and teaches art for the sheer joy of it.

In March, Deuben’s works will be featured in a solo exhibition, “Field Concert,” at the Marion Cultural Alliance’s Brick City Center for the Arts, or “The Brick.” The show runs March 4-26 and features oil paintings and mixed media/pastel works; all with animal subjects.

An opening reception on Friday, March 4, will usher in the exhibit from 5 to 6:30 p.m. with tapas, libations, raffle prizes and the chance to meet Deuben. All of the pieces will be for sale and a percentage of each purchase will benefit the Mill Creek Farm Retirement Home for Horses in Alachua County.

“It’s just north of Gainesville,” Deuben said of Mill Creek. “That’s my zen place, where I go to recoup, and I co-sponsor a retired racehorse there, Sir Valahad. He had been rescued from a kill farm in South Florida.”

After taking a job with a health department around 12 years ago, Deuben was diagnosed with breast cancer while helping other women through their healing journey. She worked in a Putnam County program called Healthy Liaison.

“I was the assessment worker,” she explained, adding that she would make home visits with young pregnant women who were newly diagnosed with cancer.

“That was my job — to find out if they need assistance. During that time, my sister said, ‘I’ve got breast cancer, so you need to go get checked.’ So I did, and I had it too. My insurance had just kicked in with the state. I’d been without health insurance for eight years,” Deuben said.

Deuben added that her most recent vanquish of cancer left her partially disabled, so she retired. She now spends her days painting whatever and wherever she chooses. Most of her works focus on nuances of flora and fauna; horses and cattle roaming pastures, a singular close-up of a flower and a host of other creatures and plants. Her technique is expressionistic with the sensuousness of an impressionist.

“I’m more of a zero-in-on-one-thing kind of artist, I guess,” Deuben summed-up modestly.

With oils, acrylics and pastels arranged on her easel, nature is a bigger muse than career success has been. Though she does very little on the Internet, she is a proficient computer user. It’s not that she can’t do it, rather that, like Melville’s Bartleby, she “would prefer not to.”

“If you waste your time on things that make you unhappy, it makes you sick,” Deuben offers in a soft but instructive tone.

“Turtle 2 Play” won third place at Marion Cultural Alliance’s first juried members exhibit, titled “Pleasures,” in 2019. [Photos courtesy Marion Cultural Alliance]

Born and raised in Kansas City, Deuben has created art since her 20s but studied English in college. A love of fashion led her to working in the corporate retail world. She also has lived in Indiana, Massachusetts and New Mexico.

“When I was in college, I wanted to go into writing” Deuben explained. “I was good at it, but the job that opened up to me was in fashion, so I became a department store buyer and did that for, like, 10 years.”

She said she took art classes recreationally.

I adored my oil painting teacher, who did the classical method,” she recalled. “It was therapeutic. My mother (who was also an artist) sold my first painting. It was Muhammad Ali in his boxing shorts.”

Since retiring, Deuben has been involved with several art organizations within a three-hour radius of her Palatka home. She has worked with the Ocala Art Group, is a current member of the Appleton Museum of Art and frequent instructor at Marion County galleries such as the Brick.

Though she has no children, Deuben enjoys teaching youngsters. On March 12, she will teach kids how to paint their pets.

“Life doesn’t stop at the county line,” Deuben said. “It just doesn’t, and neither should art. Where would we be if the impressionist hadn’t been brought to New York? We would’ve been clueless. So, I think it’s really important to be inclusive when you’re doing your art.”

Deuben said her pieces are priced reasonably in comparison to other markets.

“I don’t need to keep them,” she said of her works, adding that she’s done “hundreds” of dog and cat portraits.

“I don’t do a website, social media is not my thing — it’s all word-of-mouth advertising,” she affirmed. “If somebody pays me to do something, I make it affordable for them. My goal is to make people happy. I have a roof over my head and food on the table. I don’t worry about it.”