How Quirky is Berkeley? Debbie Vinograd and the Magical Doors

Debbie Vinograd. Photo: John Storey
Debbie Vinograd. Photo: John Storey

Debbie Vinograd has lived and painted in Berkeley since 1974. When Debbie finished college in 1973, she came to visit her big sister Julia in Berkeley. Julia is a poet who has been part of the DNA of Berkeley for almost 50 years. Berkeley even declared a Julia Vinograd Day in 2004 in honor of her poetry. Julia opened magical Berkeley doors for Debbie. She loved Berkeley. She stayed. She painted. She loves Berkeley.

The three painters she admires the most are Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, and Leonora Carrington, an English surrealist who lived and painted in Mexico.

Vinograd’s painting styles defy pigeon-holing.

Julia Vinograd by Debbie Vinograd, from a photograph by Bob Fischer. Photo: John Storey
Debbie Vinograd painting. Photo: Tom Dalzell
Debbie Vinograd painting. Photo: Tom Dalzell

This painting was the first in a series which still consumes Vinograd. After years of taking her hand and brush where she thinks it is supposed to go, she has now let her hand and brush go where they want to go.


Painting of M.K. Chavez by Debbie Vinograd. Photo: John Storey
Painting of M.K. Chavez by Debbie Vinograd. Photo: John Storey

This is a friend of Vinograd’s, M.K. Chavez, a writer and a champion of public health. Chavez is co-founder/co-curator of the Berkeley-based monthly reading series Lyrics & Dirges, and the co-director of the Berkeley Poetry Festival. She believes in literary confrontation and its capacity to obliterate all forms of oppression.

Painting by Debbie Vinograd. Photo: John Storey
Painting by Debbie Vinograd. Photo: John Storey

This painting is even more sensational in person than you would imagine it to be from this photograph. The colors! Just plain stunning.

Vinograd’s apartment is filled with things, fantastical things, tableaux, things that she paints or things that just are.

Photo: John Storey
Photo: John Storey
Photo: John Storey
Photo: John Storey
Photo: John Storey
Photo: John Storey

Vinograd spotted these fairies at Urban Ore and for months tried to buy them, only to be told that they were not for sale. In the end, she was gifted them. And she has painted them.

Tom Tuthill by Debbie Vinograd. Photo: John Storey

Vinograd’s apartment is also about Tom Tuthill, her partner until his death in 2009.

Photo: John Storey
Photo: John Storey

Tuthill was a collagist. He used scissors and glue. Nothing digital at all.

Tom Tuthill collage. Photo: John Storey
Tom Tuthill collage. Photo: John Storey

His work is on the apartment walls, and thousands of postcard-size collages are in portfolios, shoe boxes, and a glass-front bookcase.

Vinograd and Tuthill have created more art in their lifetimes than could be expected of ten artists in several lifetimes. If you are interested in seeing more or buying Vinograd’s work, call her at (510) 849-4385. Or – her paintings are being shown at Jumpin’ Java at 6606 Shattuck Ave, Oakland, starting on August 5th.

Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.

For a fuller and more idiosyncratic version of this post, see Quirky Berkeley.