Debra describes Artbag as a window into her soul. It was whilst studying at Central St Martins School of Art (2002-2005) that the idea for these first materialised. Debra took a beautiful handbag from a top couture house and adapted it into a silicone mould for casting.
The first bag was in heavy white plaster, but, her next bag, catch, was cast in resin and featured a goldfish inside a tank of water, mounted on a plinth. Her first pieces were highly autobiographical, as through these Debra visualised how she was feeling about various areas of her life.
Although this focus has shifted over time, Debra acknowledges that every bag is a distillation of who she has met, where she has been and what she has seen in the world. As Debra explains, ‘…all interactions leave a trace in me which inspire my work’. Every Artbag has a title and these are equally as intriguing: ranging from a single, punchy word through to smart, thought-provoking statements which brand and define the Artbag.
Debra explores ideas centred on consumption and mass production and recognises the complex relationship we have with material objects as consumable goods. With their kitschy elements these works are a clear nod to pop art, brought into the digital age: now more than ever, we curate and display the emblems that we love and they curate and display us.
Spanning luxury and familiarity, the elements held in each bag combine comfort, prestige and style. Resin encapsulation gives the chosen items a visually-intensified presence, with the anticipation of their consumption forever suspended in time, never to be realised.
The creation of an artbag has been likened to mummification in a slick and chic resin coffin. Objects are selected to ensure that they won’t break or melt in the casting process; occasionally, delicate items need their own mould. The silicone mould of the handbag comprises two parts and an initial layer of objects is laid out in each half.
Liquid resin is poured in, in layers, with a day in between for each layer to cure and with further objects added to build up the layers. To remove any last traces of air, the completed handbag is then put into a pressure chamber. This is the most delicate stage of the process as bubbles can be created in the resin. Once cured, the handbag stays in the mould for several days and when removed it is sanded down, polished to a high sheen and lacquered.
Debra Franses Bean was born in London in 1967. She studied Politics and Economics and initially pursued a career in advertising. She has lived and worked in New York and London, where she is now based. Her Artbags have been exhibited in galleries around the globe and she also undertakes private commissions. In 2015 she created works for the Coca Cola Museum to celebrate 100 years of the iconic coke bottle design and her works were shown alongside pieces by some of Debra’s own personal art heroes.