Today we’d like to introduce you to Debra Broz.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I was a super shy, slightly strange kid who grew up on 40 acres of wooded pasture in rural Missouri. I remember my very early childhood as quite idyllic – putting my feet in the stream near our house, climbing trees, spending hours looking at nature with the microscope of my own eye. My dad liked to draw, my grandmothers both sewed and made quilts, my paternal grandfather made wooden toys and unusual crafts, and everyone else read books all the time. Things were always being made or imagined where ever I was.
When I was just a toddler, I invented a mystical animal called the Waguma. For a time, I drew virtually only Wagumas, as they had endless personalities and traits: nice or mean; spotted, striped, or with spikes; cloudlike, horse like, dinosaur like: Wagumas had it all. So, there I was, at five, in the refuge of my treehouse, drawing Wagumas like it was just something a person did. Then I went to school.
The next 12 years or so could pretty much be summed up by saying I didn’t fit in well in school. I drew a lot, read a lot, and I would readily disappear into my own head, irretrievable even by the voice of the teacher.
For college I went to a small liberal arts university in St. Louis as the first Fine Arts major to win a full academic scholarship. There, I worked mostly in painting, although I hauled around several boxes of found objects that I used as inspiration.
It wasn’t until I moved to Austin that my work as it is now began to appear. I moved there a couple of years after graduating college, as an attempt to recover from a failure in grad school admissions. I moved to Austin jobless, and serendipitously found an ad for someone looking for an apprentice in ceramics restoration. I went to work as his apprentice, and that decision became the defining feature of my art and my career for the past 12 years.
In Austin, many things fell into place for me.
I learned the restoration techniques that allowed me to create the sculpture I am still making today; I started my ceramics restoration business; I was director of an art studio and gallery and co-editor of a local art publication. I loved the community I helped to create and sustain in Austin, and when I moved to Los Angeles nearly five years ago, my hope was that I would be able to be a part of something similar. Adjusting to LA has been complicated for me, but in the last few years I’ve been able to find a niche, not just with my art and my business, but within world of arts nonprofits, regularly working for the Center for Cultural Innovation and most recently becoming a member of curatorial collective Monte Vista Projects.
Please tell us about your art.
My artwork process starts out as a rescue mission- saving ceramic figurines from the thrift store (or the landfill). I’m particularly drawn to animal figurines, but I bring home most everything that I find. In the Midwest where I grew up, figurines had a special significance. I have a lot of tenderness for these little objects, even though they embody a commercialized version of benign happiness.
My studio is essentially a ceramic animal party, with a little bit of Dr. Moreau and Dr. Frankenstein mixed in. Each object, during its stay in my studio, will turn from something mass-produced into something completely unique. Using my skills as a ceramic’s restorer, I disassemble and reassemble different parts of figurines to make new creations. My techniques allow me to blend them seamlessly, so they appear as if they were born that way- a perfect manifestation of their new selves. In my world, benign happiness is twisted into something more complicated, and hopefully more interesting.
If people can see my work with humor, that is what I want most. While my work is also influenced by strange things in the natural world, evolutionary biology, genetics, pop culture, folktales and mythology, that bit of dark humor is the most important thing to hang on to. The world is unsustainable without it.
Do you have any advice for other artists? Any lessons you wished you learned earlier?
I think it’s important to be mostly realistic, but also to believe that if you hustle, you’ll be able to make it work. Most artists have another job besides their art, lots of artists have several jobs besides their art – I’ve most often fell into the latter category. Art is something you have to make time for, and the returns can be small and slow, but the feelings and opportunities are worth it if you manage to stick around. I’ve tried to acquire skills that allow me to be close to art in my day job, and are useful in my practice as well. The skills I learned in restoration have been integral to my current art practice and I’ve been able to build a business with them. It’s not easy, but if you’re willing to work (a lot) it can be done.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
The best way to see the newest work I’m doing, what I’m up to in the studio and where I’m showing next is to follow me on Instagram @zebrazorb. You can also purchase work through my website (www.debrabroz.com/available-
If you’re interested in my ceramics restoration work, you can find me at www.
- Website: www.debrabroz.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @zebrazorb
- Facebook: facebook.com/DebraBrozArtist
- Other: www.scienceofartrestoration.com