British artist Debra Franses, who has lived and worked in New York, and now based in rural Amersham, which is about 40-odd kilometres from central London, is making her debut in Dubai and the Middle East.
Her month-long exhibition Artbag opened at THAT Concept Store in Mall of the Emirates on Thursday.
She described Artbag “as a window into her soul”.
It was whilst studying at Central St Martins School of Art (2002-05) that the idea for these creations first materialised, when she 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 Franses visualised how she was feeling about the various areas in her life, even though the focus has shifted over the passage over time.
Her creations celebrate pop art in a fast-changing digital world.
She explores ideas centred on consumption and mass production and recognises the complex relationship that people have with material objects as consumable goods.
“The only constant in life is change and the freezing of time is a celebration of my creations,” said an effervescent Franses, known for her ready wit and wry sense of humour.
Her bespoke bags exude comfort, prestige and style.
“Resin is the medium of art for me because it preserves things. I want to hold things that are precious and must be handled with care. We must be kind to each other,” she said in her inimitable way.
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.
Franses, who was born in London, studied politics and economics and initially pursued a career in advertising, despite her artistic ambitions from a tender age of six years.
“My work takes its cue from the kitschy elements of popular culture, referencing both pop art and post modernism’s endeavours to embody these ideals,” she said.
She explained her fascination for the colour red. “Held in the resin-preserved moment of time on the lines of chaos in a moment of stillness. Red symbolises chaos, as each bag tells a unique story of human trials and tribulations,” she said.
She fell in love with Dubai at first sight on her maiden visit.
“Sun, sand and the vertical skyscrapers make me feel that Dubai is inextricably linked to my future. Dubai embodies my creations, which are a social commentary of the transient nature of human existence. For instance, my creation, aptly called 'Handle with care', is made of gold barbed wire containing a fragile white bird that celebrates the fragility of human existence,” she said.
Her first insight into Asia was India in 2003 where she “fell in love with the culture…initially through yoga and a spiritual connection with the beautiful innocent people”.
“I love culture and studied social anthropology at university before going to Central St Martins School of Art to bring it all together in my own artistic language formed by objects. The handbag became an immediate and intimate language to carry all my memories and experiences of the world and the people whom I met in my artistic journey,” she added.
Franses’ ethnicity makes her a global citizen — her father, a Sephardic Jew, was a renaissance man, who could speak several European languages with consummate ease and was trained as a matador (bullfighter) before he ventured into his father’s hat business in London’s Maddox Street. Her mother was an Ashkenazi Jew from modern-day Belarus and was an art teacher.
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 her own personal art heroes.
“We’re beyond excited to partner with THAT Concept Store in the creation of our first retail X art pop-up space. THAT Concept Store understands the power artists have to transform a retail space into an immersive and culturally relevant environment. They’ve been instrumental in bringing this collaboration to life. Over the coming months, ArtKōrero will present both International and UAE-based artists within the ArtKōrero X THAT pop-up, starting with Nat Bowen and now our second show featuring Debra Franses. We can’t wait to share her incredible bag sculptures with visitors to the store and Mall of the Emirates,” said Chimere Cisse, founder of ArtKōrero.
ArtKōrero, which has offices in both London and Dubai, seeks to engage galleries, private venues, luxury brands and public spaces with the art world. James Goldcrown, Kico Camacho, Anchorball and Rabab Tantawy are some of the creative sparks who are collaborating with ArtKōrero.
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