Debra was born in London in 1967. She studied Politics and Economics at the University of Manchester and initially pursued a career in advertising, before enrolling at Central St Martins School of Art (2002-2005) and creating Artbag. She has lived and worked variously in New York, Europe 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 pieces for the Coca Cola Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, 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. In 2019, her work was the centrepiece of the incredible Handbag Exhibition in Basel: ‘Icons and Investments’. She regularly collaborates with her contemporaries and, in 2020, she opened her own dedicated Gallery to represent herself alongside a few trusted galleries in Amsterdam, France, Palm Beach and London.
In autumn 2020 (postponed from March 2020), she is scheduled to launch her work in Dubai at the World Fashion Awards, with a unique display of the world’s most expensive Artbag, covered in divine diamonds to the value of £13.5 million. Although it may seem excessive now, in light of the impact of COVID-19, the piece stands as a reflection upon the dynamics of the consumerist world, of conspicuous wealth and ambition for something so special, it is only a dream, an aspiration.
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Debra describes Artbag as a window into her soul. It was whilst she was at art school that the idea for Artbags first materialised. Debra took a beautiful handbag from a top couture house and adapted it into a silicone mould for casting. Whilst the first bag was sculpted in heavy white plaster, 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 Debra has shifted away from this self-reflexive focus over time, she still feels that every bag is a distillation of the people she has met, the places 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 an intriguing title, 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, recognising the complex relationship that we have with material objects as consumable goods. With their kitschy elements, her 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, in turn, curate and display us.
Spanning luxury and familiarity, the elements held in each bag combine comfort, prestige and style. The medium of 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 contents of the Artbag is so personal and she has created over 200 over the last 10 years. You may link here to a specially designed tool to create your own either by uploading your own contents or you can just ‘play-around’ with the many existing items provided design your own!
The creation of an Artbag has been likened to mummification in a slick and chic resin coffin! Objects are carefully selected to ensure that they won’t break or melt in the casting process; occasionally, delicate items may need their own special 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 stages, with 48 hours left in between for each level to cure and with further objects added to build up the layers. Then, to remove any last traces of air, the completed Artbag is put into a pressure chamber; this is the most delicate stage of the process, as it is important to prevent any bubbles from being created in the resin. After the final cure, the Artbag stays in the mould for several days, before being sanded down, polished to a high sheen and lacquered.