Debs... in conversation

Art happens in the space between the spectator and the work

Heidi Zuckerman in her book ‘Conversations with Artists’ says that she believes that we look at art and talk about it with others, as a means to understand and be understood, and that it is this yearning and reckoning that is the key to being truly alive.  This sentiment rings true as Debs reflects on her career path.

Coming from an artistic family, Debs was absorbed by, and immersed in, the art world from a very early age eventually studying the history of art, three-dimensional design and aesthetics at university.  She explains that she hated the ceramics subsidiary module, so following graduation, she set herself up as jeweller designing making high end pieces from precious stones and metals.  This she continued for a number of years, moving later into a long and successful career in management training and business consultancy.

There came a point, however, when Debs craved a return to her artistic roots, to nurturer the latent creativity within her.  So, after taking a year out to study for a masters in sustainability, she stepped away from the corporate world to reignite that flame, to feel truly alive again.

“I’m still unsure how, but my career gradually morphed into the business world where it remained for over 20 years, however, I was burnt out. I needed art back in my life. I needed to make things with my hands and experience creativity coursing through my veins once more. I desperately wanted to sculpt a head; I’ve no idea why but I was consumed by the desire for at least a year before I finally achieved it!”

From her studio in The Cotswolds, Debs specialises mainly in figurative sculpture based on the human form.  She feels the lifeforce of the clay drawing out a form, a shape, a texture, creating through touch and feel, either translating the image she sees before her or working up an idea she wants to develop.  Sometimes, she’s unsure what she’s aiming for, trusting her hands to the creative process, other times, she concentrates on the detail, painting a portrait in three-dimension using clay.

 “My hands express what comes from deep within, through observation and/or imagination. The pleasure is in the making, a good outcome is a bonus.”

Although Debs works in other materials, clay is her medium of choice, after which it is mainly cast into bronze or bronze resin.

“I love the flexibility, fluidity and tolerance of clay; I feel a powerful connection with human nature and the earth when I sculpt, it’s a mindful, meditative process in which I often lose track of time.  I love clay. It’s messy, it’s beautiful, it’s responsive, infinitely malleable and forgiving.  I’m working to capture the relationship and emotion awoken between me and the subject in front of me.  Through my hands I explore the personality behind the face or body, capturing expression, movement, emotion, individuality and the complexity of human nature.”

The human form still challenges her technically.  She explains that it's intricate, it's subtle, it's beautiful and it's soft, so Debs tries when possible, to work from a living model, breathing life and vitality into her work.  She explains that it’s a dialogue, understanding the emotions and feelings and the subtle interplay between them, the bone structure, muscle tone, proportion and position of the person in front of her.  Debs’ training as a jeweller gives her an eye for detail, occasionally working with the aid of a magnifying glass to add finer details. 

“Sometimes I feel as though I’m pushing grains of sand around! Sometimes that’s a curse, other times it’s a blessing but the more detail I can achieve, the more alive the piece becomes.

Recently, Debs has been experimenting with more representational figures, exploring emotional and aesthetic concepts in terms of how individual works of art are interpreted and evaluated, an area she hopes to progress further.

To quote something a photographic artist once said, “The challenge is to see beyond the distraction of the conspicuous, to capture its unique self.” This has become her mantra.

Debs is a founder member of the Cotswold Sculptors Association and a member of the Oxford Sculptors Group