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Current exhibit in Regier Gallery has Newton as its subject

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Newton has recently become a favorite subject for Stilwell painter Debra Payne.

Her exhibit, “Behind the Scenes,” is currently on display in the Regier Gallery in Luyken Fine Arts Center at Bethel College.

Payne is best known for her intimate, oil-painted portraits of the neighborhoods, streets, buildings and countryside where she lives. The spots she chooses are rarely the landmarks of the community but rather the back alleys, railroad crossings and middle-class homes of small towns in the Midwest.

The atmosphere is often gloomy and the subject matter overlooked by most. Her palette is limited to a few pigments, creating images that invite the viewer to understand the space in a simplified fashion, void of nostalgia.

“The beginning of any painting isn’t about the subject matter or the colors present,” Payne says in her artist statement, “but rather about the emotion that goes to the core of the work.

“When I happen across something that triggers a strong emotional response in me, then I know I have to paint.

“Typically, this process begins with a few sketches, working out the shape of the canvas, the placement of major components and general layout.

“Once this has been determined, a drawing is done on location and the basic values established in oil. Numerous photographs are taken to document many of the qualities present in the scene.

“Finally, the painting is completed in the studio, always reminding myself what drew me initially to this particular space.”

Payne has been drawn more recently, she said, to “painting spaces specifically in and around Newton, Kansas.”

She has traveled from her home in Stilwell, a small rural town in Johnson County south of the Kansas City metro area, a number of times over the past year.

While here, she has “tried to capture those spaces and situations that I found most fascinating.

“Some of these spaces are public places, places that many pass by often. Others are less commonly seen, the alleys and back doors of a community that has yards, trains and tire swings.

“All of them are places that caused me to hesitate. My hope is that these places will seem familiar and at the same time as though you are seeing them for the first time, through a new lens.”

“Behind the Scenes” will be on display through Feb. 20, with an artist reception Feb. 19 from 6-8 p.m. in the gallery area.

Regier Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sundays 2-4 p.m. Admission is free.

On the exhibit’s final day, Payne will be on campus to interact with Bethel art students.

“I’m excited that she’ll be working with painting students on Feb. 20, demonstrating her painting techniques and talking through her process,” said Rachel Epp Buller, assistant professor of visual art and design.

Payne has exhibited throughout the Midwest, at venues including a solo show at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, St. Joseph, Missouri; The Late Show, a gallery in downtown Kansas City, Missouri; and The Main Street Gallery in Kansas City. Awards include oil painting division winner at the Stems Plein Air Event in Overland Park and Best of Show at the Steelville Plein Air Event in Salem, Missouri.

Payne is a native of Manhattan and has degrees from Emporia State University and the University of Kansas. She was an art instructor at Liberty (Missouri) High School and now teaches graduate-level courses at the Kansas City Art Institute.

More recently, she has broadened her experience to working as set designer for the Chestnut Fine Arts Theatre in Olathe.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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