My Friend Debbie Marr

By B. Noel Barr, Music Columnist

A  light on 7th Street went dark and for some people the neighborhood will never be the same. My good friend , nationally recognized photorealistic artist, died at UCLA Medical Center in Westwood at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 3.

Her determination to make her gallery work and to make a mark as a photorealist was paramount. At the time of her death, she had been on the cusp of greatness. She stayed positive to most, never allowing her fears to get in the way of what needed to be done.

Lazy Dog Studio was one of the only Gallery’s that was open six days a week, six hours a day since Debbie Marr opened the room to the public. It was a dog friendly gallery at that. Debbie owned a feisty golden retriever named Karma, he was her pup. The image you see on her logo is another dog she had  named Zack. The pictures of dogs, particularly golden, could be seen intermixed with nature and scenes of her beloved San Pedro.

Her ability to create real life with paint and brush shined in her portrait of Simon Rodia, the man who built the Watts Towers. A print of Debbie’s hangs in Rodia’s hometown of Serino, Italy. You can look at the detail of her architectural paintings or her work with other complex images, “stunning” is the word that comes to mind.

Her connection with San Pedro began many years before in Inglewood, where she was instructed in art by Muriel Olguin at Morningside High School. This relationship lasted until Debbie’s death this past week at age 58. The Olguins were Debbie’s friends. She did a portrait of John and Muriel and another of John after his death. Thier photos and portrait are in Debbie’s book San Pedro,The Faces and Places, which she dedicated to the Olguins.

Her love for San Pedro never flagged. She moved away from the town a couple of times but always returned. She used to tell me, “You can leave Pedro, but it never leaves you.”

She was committed to her family and her friends, and she always said what was on her mind. She embraced San Pedro and its wild at heart nature.

Debbie moved from one parent to another briefly, at this point she took the offer of her Uncle George Marr who had been taking care of his mother until she died. He offered her a home and helped with her education in art. Debbie would go from El Camino College with an associate degree in art and on to UCLA where she graduated.

She worked in different media that included new computer technology. Trust me she was a hard-core techie. She would read manuals and played with the equipment until she mastered them. Debbie was a part of the new visual artists who were changing the face of television doing computer effects on shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But it was the idea of paint on canvas that excited her. When asked as a youth what she wanted to do with her life?

Her brother remembers her saying, “I want to do one of these two things, be a vet or an artist”  She choose the art and never looked back.

She surrounded herself with friends who she met quite easily, always willing to help and encourage others in whatever they did. A staunch supporter of the arts, Debbie had been part of the San Pedro Art Association since about 1998.

“She was a force within the art community,” said John Stinson, who heads The San Pedro Art Association. “She helped The San Pedro Art Association to get their current location in Ports O’ Call Village. She not only helped the San Pedro Art Association, she helped the San Pedro community at large.”

She received awards and accolades for her work in the community from The City of Los Angeles signed by Councilwoman Janice Hahn and later Councilman Joe Buscaino. Those are just two of many that covered the wall of her studio on 7th Street. Along for her numerous awards and blue ribbons were her write ups in the newspapers like Easy Reader, Random Lengths News along with other local and mainstream media. On the remaining walls in the heart of the studio were current works or favorites that she moved in and out.

Debbie published San Pedro Faces and Places in 2005. This endeavor included not only her paintings and photos but the works of Taso Papadakis, Tony Podue, Shirley Richards and Norm Zareski, plus photos from the San Pedro Historical Society. This depicted the people and the port town historically and in present settings.

In 2012 she had a work in a National Park Contest and won the honors to tour some of the National Parks and Monuments. 2013 she had been accepted into a select group of photorealists out of a thousand entries in Tempe, Ariz.

Prints were moving through the gallery. Her personal production was at a clip of one painting a month. Good paying assignments were coming in. Throughout this time of physical unease she maintained grace under duress.  Always playful, she liked joking with her friends, always followed by, “Come on over” and you would get a hug.

Andrea Luse of Ma Griffe Galerie said of Debbie Marr in an online statement:

Never to be forgotten: Debbie Marr, Cherished Friend

In appreciation for the many qualities that made her the definitive of “MaGriffe”, my mark… For being there to listen, trying to understand and help. For giving her time and her interest to elevate the status and importance of the arts in our community and beyond. For sharing her special talent and amazing gift with the universe.

There are those whose life had been struggle and challenge, hers was of that lot. She overcame the odds and recognized that the truth was in her life was her art. That art set her free.

Her brother and sister-in-law Ron and Linda Darling, her Uncle George Marr and her friend Michelle Meese were there with Debbie when her time came. Just before she died, her brother leaned in her ear and said how much he loved her.

Her last words were, “I love..”

 

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