“Do I allow people to see me for who I am/or do I expose the part of me/that I think they want to see?”
The question is inscribed atop a page depicted in “Me, All the Time,” Deborah Gregg’s mixed-media sculpture of a book.
On the cover is a sculpted mask of an unsmiling face. Because the book is open, it seems like we’re peering into someone’s head. At left are pages, one of which begins with the question above, and at right, a photo of Gregg with hands over her eyes.
The work is one of 24 in “Inscriptive Manifestations: The Inner Voice,” her first solo exhibition, which runs through Aug. 18 at the Coral Springs Museum of Art.
Her works, made from found objects, hand-sculpted parts and short journal-like writings, are about the voice inside, the one that remains honest even as we reflect untruths. In “Me, All the Time,” she puts it this way: “I am agreeable when I want to be disagreeable, then I feel untruthful to myself.”
As an only child, Gregg says her inner voice was her best friend. As an artist, it’s an ever-increasing presence in her work. “I’m more of an observer than the life of the party,” she says. “That sort of personality tends to keep things inside more than verbalize them.”
Growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., Gregg never kept a diary for fear someone would read it, but had a passion for the classes she took at Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
“I loved to go through the museums and gallery and then come back to the classroom and work,” she says. “It was just wonderful for me.”
She didn’t consider an art career, however, until her family moved to South Florida, and a high school graphic design teacher provided the attention, confidence and push she needed to begin entering and winning competitions.
Gregg, who lives in Parkland, has since earned a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Miami and many ADDY awards while employed at various ad agencies.
While raising two daughters, now teenagers, she quit her full-time job and began freelancing, while continuing to make art — mixed-media works that often contained writing. “But it wasn’t my writing,” she says. “It was quotes or words. It wasn’t very personal, and I never felt like it was enough.”
Five years ago, she quit freelancing to teach at the Coral Springs Museum of Art and refine her artistic mission. “I had been searching for a couple years to try to find what is me,” she says. “I hadn’t really found the exact expression of what I wanted to do.”
At a 2009 workshop in Mexico, she had a breakthrough while creating a work with a masked face at its core. “I got up the next morning and I’m lying in bed thinking, ‘How am I going to treat the surface of this face?’ So I’m thinking, thinking, thinking and it came to me that I wanted to write on it. I got very excited about that thought.”
She raced to her sketchbook and began writing, this time her own words. “I wanted this piece to be about me creating, and for me that was about listening to myself and not listening to anybody else or pulling anything from the outside into my work.”
Her finished writing, a promise to continue doing that, contains sentiments such as: “I will feed my soul with art everyday” and “I will not let the opinions of others guide my work/I will look inside/and to my past/for inspiration.” The words, scrawled into the texture of the face, which dons an elaborately decorated eye mask, could easily be missed.
“When I started doing this work, I would write on the piece but you almost couldn’t read it,” Gregg recalls. “Maybe things were sideways or around a sculpture or written into a canvas that you had to work very hard to read.”
But the response, once read, gave Gregg the courage to bring her writing, and the inner voice behind it, more to the forefront.
Gregg feels that if our inner voices could converse more, we might realize we’re not so alone, unusual or different from one another. “We’re so much more alike than we appear on the outside,” she says. “It transcends color, race, social status and geography.”
Colleen Dougher operates the South Florida arts blog Arterpillar.
If you go
What: “Inscriptive Manifestations: The Inner Voice”
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, through Aug. 18
Where: Coral Springs Museum of Art, 2855 Coral Springs Drive
Cost: $6 general, $5 for seniors, $3 for students, free for children younger than 12
Contact: 954-340-5000, Csmart.org
More on artist: deborahgregg.com