Debra Broz began falling in love with small, unusual things while growing up in rural central Missouri. She received her BFA from Maryville University – St. Louis in 2003. She then moved to Austin, Texas where she worked as a mixed media artist, ceramics restorer, and visual art nonprofit director for eight years.
In late 2013 she moved to Los Angeles where she continues her artistic and restoration practices, and is an arts adviser and advocate. Debra’s artwork is currently being shown in RE-MADE: Contemporary Approaches to Factory Ceramics at the American Museum of Ceramic Art.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Debra, when did you first realize the arts were an important part of your life?
I don’t really remember a time when art wasn’t a major part of my identity. My dad really enjoyed drawing. He would bring home boxes of scrap paper from work and he would draw with my sister and I. My grandmothers both sewed and quilted, and my grandpa on my dad’s side made wooden toys and crafts. Making things was woven into the fabric of life.
Carrie: How would you describe your art?
Conceptually, my work is about using various materials to reimagine the world – taking something people think of one way, and changing it so they see it in another way.
Physically, most of my current work uses ceramics restoration techniques to alter kitsch animal figurines I find at secondhand stores.
Carrie: Can you describe the evolution of your artistic style? (Have you always made art with this unique vision or what was your turning point into recognizing this style was your authentic “you”?)
In college I was doing painting, artist books, collage, and collecting and arranging objects. I was always working across a spectrum of materials, meaning that I’ve never been particularly bound to a specific medium. I’ve always been interested in non-traditional materials, found objects and things that came to me secondhand.
The ability to work with and understand lots of different materials and to problem-solve was what led me to restoration. The techniques I learned as a restorer (and my pre-existing love of kitsch ceramics and thrifting) led me into making the modified ceramic works.
Although ceramic sculptures are primarily what I’m making now, I still make collage, books, and these other things I consider to be drawings. I made a conscious choice to focus my marketing efforts on the sculptures so that’s mostly what people are seeing, but I’m still making other things.
Carrie: How do you take risk in your art?
For me, the biggest risk is listening to your own inner sensibility more than anything else. My path in life has gone a certain way because early on I knew it was very important to me to make what I wanted to make without being influenced by sales, criticism, and other exterior forces.
I think it gets complicated when you sell work, or you have a certain series that everyone seems to love, because there is pressure to do more of the same even if your creative voice is loudly telling you to go a different direction. Purposefully going against what your market says it wants defies business logic, but the creative process is not logical. Listening to my artist self, as crazy as that self often seems, has taken me in the right direction.
Carrie: In your modified ceramics, how do you decide on which ceramic pieces to combine?
Sometimes I see something and I know it’s just going to work on it’s own, or I find a pair and it’s just so right. That’s rare, though.
I have a catalogue in my head of objects I already have (the scale, the finish, etc.) and so when I’m thrifting I can look at objects in the context of that catalog. Scale and style are very critical. The pieces have to match up in both these ways to make the seamless transitions possible. When there’s not a connection right away I get out what I have and move things around, like “mating.” While I have pieces out I don’t just look at them physically, I think about concepts: mostly science and mythology-related, to see if anything comes out of that.
Carrie: How do you know when an artwork is finished?
In the case of the ceramics, the piece is finished when all the final production work is done: when the painting, sculpting and finish all look exactly how they should. I have a problem with perfectionism so this can be a long process but it’s pretty boring, it’s really all technique.
The more difficult part for the ceramics is knowing when the idea is finished. I try to make sure I’m thoughtful about my work. That means when I have a concept, I always think about pushing it farther- it’s not just exchanging heads and bodies. If I feel like I’ve thought it out well and gone beyond simply visual to add some other type of concept, then the idea is done.
Carrie: What does your workspace look like?
My space is in the garage behind my house. My work area is set up near the bay door so I open it up when I work during the day. I have one side set up for restoration and sculpture production work, the putting together of the things. Most of the time that’s where I am.
The other side of the studio is for idea making: it’s where I lay out objects, cut collage pieces, make work on paper – the whole thinking side of things.
I have lots of boxes of ceramics, and lots of ceramics out on the shelves. It helps me generate ideas if these things are always visible in my periphery.
My big dog, Sega, hangs out in the studio when I work and so does one of my cats, so I always have company.
Carrie: What has been one hurdle you’ve overcome as a creative and how did you navigate that problem?
So, I can’t really say that I’ve overcome this, but I think the most difficult thing about being an artist is accepting the fact that being an artist is business (albeit a very weird type of business). You spend A LOT of time doing things you may not really want to do. It takes so much time- updating the website, doing social media, sending out newsletters, making invoices, applying to shows, networking – and you want to spend all day making, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Sometimes you spend so much time being the administrator for your art you don’t feel like making art. The only solution I’ve found is to just push through and remember how gratifying it is when you make something you know is awesome. It’s the best feeling in the world to make an amazing idea reality.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
The library! It has everything, and it’s free. Everyone should go patronize their local library.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I was listening to an interview with Gloria Steinem the other day and she said, at 81, she’s never had a “real job.” She’s never had a boss, she’s always been a freelancer. People with non-traditional careers inspire me. There are so many ways to live that are not the “get a job when you’re 25, work at it until you’re 65, then retire” model. It gives me hope knowing that there are all these people out there making things happen for themselves in an unusual way.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Creativity means wanting to know about all kinds of things and having the drive to learn, to figure things out, to build things, to experiment, and to look at things in many ways.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What strategies do you use to tune into your artist self and follow your creative path? I want to know! Let’s talk about it in the comments below.
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