Irma Bijdemast with her painting Fabulouso – one of eight pieces sold by her during this year's Peninsula Art Tour.

Irma Bijdemast with her painting Fabulouso – one of eight pieces sold by her during this year's Peninsula Art Tour.

Art-tour approach a success for artist

Irma Bijdemast finds a new market for abstract mixed-media work in White Rock and South Surrey

If you’re going to buy a piece of art to display in your home, it makes a great deal of sense to encounter it in a domestic setting.

That’s the enthusiastic response of White Rock abstract contemporary mixed-media artist Irma Bijdemast – and her partner (in life and art) Debbie Lawrance – in the wake of last month’s successful Peninsula Art Tour.

The seventh annual event, held Sept. 24-25, showcased the work of 22 visual artists in 12 different home studio locations dotted around the Peninsula; with artists teamed and matched to provide their work a conducive environment in which to be seen.

For first-time participant Bijdemast, being included in the art tour was a particularly successful experiment – during the course of the weekend she sold eight canvases.

It’s not a new concept, of course, and it’s one that definitely has a following – arts-conscious potential buyers seem to particularly relish the behind-the-scenes glimpse into working studios and artists’ techniques that such a tour affords.

As well as Bijdemast’s work, this year’s event allowed them an insight into the acrylics and mixed media works of Nicole Carrie, Rich Schmid’s imaginative wood-turning, the drawings acrylics and oils of David Klassen, the pottery, mosaics and public art of Connie Glover, Jeanette Jarville’s vivid contemporary canvases, Lisa Samphire’s creative glass, Lee Caufield’s mixed-media work, Joanne Carter’s glass torch jewellery and, Mac Grieve’s acrylic landscapes.

Also among the pleasures on display were Sid and Adele Samphire’s stoneware, Gary McDonald’s oils, watercolours and acrylics, Adrienne Carrie’s jewellery, Carolyn Doan’s oils, Jess Rice’s watercolours and acrylics, John Wright’s pottery, Georgina Johnstone’s acrylics, Angelo Morrisey’s watercolours and acrylics, Audrey Bakewell’s watercolours and jewellery, Marilyn Hurst’s acrylics and David Patterson’s oils.

Bijdemast said her personal success with the tour was partly to do with not setting too high a price point on her works.

“I want art to be affordable for people,” said the painter, who retired as a claims officer with WorkSafe BC eight years ago to concentrate full-time on her art.

“For me, if I sell a painting, it means I can buy more paints and canvases.”

But she and Lawrance, who moved to White Rock a year and half ago from Panorama Ridge, also agree that showing the work in the warmer, more friendly setting of their home/studio gets away from the more clinical atmosphere of a gallery – or, far worse, the sterile environment of a multi-purpose commercial or institutional space pressed into gallery use, particularly in a low-traffic area.

“We are so comfortable here and enthusiastic about the art that people feel and sense the comfort,” Lawrance said.

Most importantly, they said, the tour gave a chance for Bijdemast’s pieces to resonate with a “steady stream of art patrons” through the two days, many of whom seemed to make a personal connection with her richly coloured, highly-intuitive compositions.

All are abstract, Bijdemast emphasizes, although she will use some elements of landscape – her most recent series depict the building outlines of an imaginary cityscape – to create an evocative piece.

The reaction to her work in White Rock has been particularly heartening, she and Lawrance say, since she has steadfastly resisted the more comfortable, well-travelled pathways of painting representational landscapes and florals.

“I think eight years ago people weren’t so open to abstract art,” said Lawrance, who has remained Bijdemast’s most assiduous champion – and also provides added value to each piece by creating a descriptive poem in place of the usual artist’s statement, many of which have been framed by buyers and hung alongside the canvas.

“We weren’t sure how well received her work would be, not only by patrons buying art, but also other artists. But Irma has stayed true to herself and her abstract roots from day one.”

One visitor on the recent tour walked into the living room and proclaimed “finally – an abstract artist in White Rock,” Lawrance recalled with a chuckle.

A self-taught painter for as long as she can remember, Bijdemast has refined her work in the last few years around a deep and abiding love of colour and prefers to manipulate her paints with a palette knife. Other added media have included everything from gauzes to found materials such as the paper confetti from binder hole-punches.

“When I retired, I had all this time to delve into things and play – you need a lot of time to play,” she said, adding that she is unable to schedule her work to blocks of so many hours per day.

That’s one of the advantages of a home/studio set-up, Lawrance and Bijdemast agree – if she wants to roll out of bed at two in the morning and paint, she can do it.

“I walk up to a canvas and I have no idea what I’m going to do – I just have the urge to paint,” Bijdemast said.

“I always know that she’s finished a painting when she tells me ‘Debbie, I’ve created a masterpiece,” Lawrance laughed.

“But Irma won’t put her signature on anything she wouldn’t hang in our home.”

One of the high points of the art tour for Bijdemast, was hearing reactions to her work first hand from patrons.

“People were looking at my art and saying I see this and I see that – they were sharing it with me. That’s the beauty about abstract art – you can see so many things in it and everyone sees something different.

“I felt completely honoured and over the moon that people (responded to) my art and that I could see that what I was doing was really something they liked.”

Another important part of the show for Bijdemast and Lawrance is that it was a strong demonstration that the current fashion for drabness in decor is becoming passe – as well as proving that introducing a piece with personal resonance, and colours that pop, is much better than buying nondescript “art” that matches sofas and draperies.

“People say ‘I can’t buy that piece because it doesn’t match my chesterfield’,” Lawrance said.

“But in our home they could see we have all of the colours of the world together – and it works.”

“The world is full of colours – I love dealing with colours,” Bijdemast said.

For more information on Bijdemast’s work, search Irma the Abstract Artist on Facebook, or visit