Debbie Bent is nearing the end of her five years as a fellow at Fenners Studios. Her time has been spent between her own practice, exhibitions and the founding of Digswell Ceramics Community. She also played an important part in the beginning of the Fenners building itself, involved with the clearing, building, painting, organising and running of community events that have all helped create the welcoming and nurturing environment we have today.
1) How would you describe your current practice (e.g. materials, techniques, themes, key questions, approach)?
I have always used clay as a way to express myself. I find it lends itself to both my conscious creative decisions and my subconscious questioning. My sculptures are always a balance between the two. Sometimes it is good for me to go back to playing with materials, processes and ideas because I can lose touch with exploration if I am not careful but it is that part that always gives me the greatest pleasure. I have just had an exhibition at Courtyard Arts and the Maynard Gallery on the theme of chaos and control; the materials are sometimes just a metaphor for exploring ideas around being human and this is still the case with my work at the moment.
2) What are you working on at the moment (forthcoming exhibitions, events, workshops etc)?
Digswell Ceramics Community as well as my other work as a tutor is taking up a lot of time. There is an exhibition and open weekend showcasing students work coming up and I am excited by the prospect of everyone getting together to celebrate our progress. I also have to move out of my studio and leave behind some really good friends which is quite emotional so I am spending a lot of time packing up and reflecting on where I am and where I have been.
As I am packing I am recording the memories of my time in my sketch book. A test tile or a drawing or even a half used glaze has my mind travelling to all the thoughts/ideas/ emotions of that time. I have been using black clay after a visit to Iceland and I am still enthralled by it so at some point it will no doubt come to a point where it is something. My first sculpture took three years to be what I wanted it to be. That is the photo below.
3) What are your plans for the coming year?
To spend more time outside. I walk my dog every day but often my head is down thinking of what I have to do next. I would like to take some time to observe more carefully and also to enjoy the process of moving studios, of reflecting, daydreaming and experimenting.
4) What is the question you get asked most about your work and how do you answer it?
I get asked why I don’t make more cups and plates. A lot of people want to tell me about how to sell commercially and ask me if I can knock things out quickly and who I can flog them to. Etsy, ebay, a shop, a gallery. I know they are trying to ‘help’ me. I answer with mmmmm…
The question that makes me laugh most is ‘where do you get all the ideas from’. The answer is that they are literally queuing up, some quite patiently on the bench where they have been for years and some are banging at the door demanding attention. They make quite a rabble.
5) What or who inspired you to be an artist and why?
I don’t know how I ended up where I am, all I know is that everything else seemed like swimming against the current. No one knew what I was doing, not even me but I just kept swimming along as I liked the water and all the other fish in the pond and I still do.
6) Which artist do you most admire and why?
Admire? Maybe Yetta, my student who is 94. There is nothing diminished about her and I find it so inspiring that she is still so exacting about her work and what she wants to say with it. I imagine myself and Yetta as children were like an image by Marlene Dumas which I really love.
If I have to choose ONE well known artist? I enjoy so many but I could sit in the Rothko room all day. It amazes me that can make me feel what he felt by using colour and brush strokes. For me art is all about making me feel and think and he makes me do both.
7) How has your relationship with Digswell Arts Trust strengthened your practice as an artist?
When I think about the last five years I have been involved in so many things including some things I didn�t think I was capable of such as a the design of a huge mural for MIND and then working to complete it with the people attending and a really thought provoking intelligent exhibition with other artists from Fenners.
Digswell and the other artists I have been lucky enough to be working with have given me a confidence in my own voice. I am very very grateful to both. I know who I am now.