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 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 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.

Debra Franses's Art of Melange - The Face India

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 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.

What are Artbags?

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 plinthHer 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!

How are Artbags made?

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.

"I have been a collector for most of my life and I love pretty things and objects that hold special memories for me. My love of Art and design and travel has inspired and coloured my world in many exciting ways. I've restored and decorated 6 homes, designed my own fabrics and wallpapers under the brand name Couturious which all fed my passion. My life is an adventure. With so many moves and travels sifting through things was a natural task for me. When I first started my Artbags they were full of my excited thoughts and each bag through a connection of objects created a feeling and an experience of a memory".

Melange-Art which is French meaning collection is a blend or mixture of things both rare and beautiful bits and pieces of art and life history.