October 28, 2021In Biography, Magazine Feature

Finding Beauty in the chaos of an uncertain world – Life UK Publications

ARTBAG is the creation of British artist Debra Franses, born in London, went to school in Rickmansworth, started her family in New,York, and now resides in Buckinghamshire.

During lockdown Debra opened a boutique gallery in Amersham as all her shows were cancelled. This she said was therapeutic and helped her to

remember the exciting world that she had worked for the last 15 years to be a part of. You might walk past the small windows and bright pink door assuming it to be a charming cottage, however once inside your entering into a world of wild imagination. Think Willy Wonker’s chocolate factory, only voyeuristic transparent resin handbag sculptures.

We asked Debra, why the fascination for the handbag? Her father was in the industry for over 40 years and she was given handbag gifts from an early age when he travelled which was often. The handbag represents a psychological canvas for her mind saying “we are what we carry.” They also made excellent dolls houses when she was little and enabled her to imagine womanhood and play with fashion.

Debra studied at London’s Central Saint Martins, graduating in 2005 and launched a boutique design company, Couturious, after winning student prizes for her innovative designs. These quirky designs were turned into wallpaper and fabrics which showcased in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges.

It was whilst studying Art in the early 2000s that the idea for ARTBAG first took shape. She took a couture handbag and adapted it into a silicone mould, and then discovered her preferred media, “resin”.

Good ideas feed themselves. Do what you love and do it well, believe in yourself and follow your dreams and your audience will find you

Her first casting was a handbag containing a goldfish. She called the artwork “catch”. It was a playful joke to get the attention of Damien Hirst who was floating sharks in tanks of formaldehyde at the Saatchi gallery. She, placed “catch” in a fish tank full of water on a gallery plinth and the Artbag concept was created.

Today, amongst other things, she casts luxury consumer goods alongside familiar utilitarian objects inside replica Hermes Birkin Bags, LV Briefcases and her own iconic handbag design. Today Debra’s art is admired in galleries and museums, as well as being commissioned by brands such as Coca Cola, Gucci, NY Fashion Week, Fairmont Hotels, and is currently exhibiting at the IFC in Shanghai. The billionaire, philanthropist and art collector, Steve Cohen, bought two pieces from Gallery Biba in Palm Beach further cementing her reputation as an investible artist.

The large sculptures are expensive and make a statement in themselves about wealth – However, she has launched some smaller ARTBAGS perfect for the dressing table or powder room. She also creates elegant illuminated photographic prints which you can buy from her gallery directly – or on her website www.artbagstudio.com. These more affordable editions cannot be found in the luxury galleries who represent her. You can also take a workshop with her in the studio, learning how to cast and pour resin or create an Artbag memories wall piece of your own. Workshops cost upwards of £150 and make a great gift for the novice or experienced artist.

Debra tries to explain ARTBAG in words but struggles and says – that’s why I make art and don’t write! They just look gorgeous, and you connect to them instantly as they evoke memories from movies, pop culture, media and a sense of nostalgic familiarity – a calm order in the messy, disorganized beauty of human life.

She finds meaning in objects which hold memories; after lockdown took away so many of our liberties. These frozen snapshots are like our lives – “frozen in a moment of time”.

Everything was cancelled; fashion weeks in New York, gallery shows, the Dubai diamond handbag
…it just all stopped” Thanks to the internet many collectors found her work online and started commissioning new pieces, so life continued calmly in her studio without all the travel and running around.

She is just working on a new collection to launch before Christmas for British gallery group Clarendon Fine Art who have several galleries in Marlow, Beaconsfield and Windsor.

Debra believes that “Good ideas feed themselves. Do what you love and do it well, believe in yourself and follow your dreams and your audience will find you”. In 2010 after recovering from breast cancer, Debra set up Mini Monets, a children’s art school currently based in Amersham where she has inspired hundreds of students to express themselves through art. www.minimonetsuk.com