This year is perhaps one of the busiest ever for Deborah Durban as far as creating new art from her home in Southern Utah. From her Bits and Pieces exhibit at Salt Lake City’s Art Access Gallery II back in August and September, to the current assortment of Collaged Portraits on display the Finch Lane Gallery until November 16, 2018, Durban is feeling a bit exhausted having created nearly 60 original pieces of work.
Unlike traditional painting or sketches, the idea for Durban’s Collaged Portraits originally began while cleaning out her mother’s house one day and she stumbled across an old family photo album. At the time of this discovery, her grandfather had been deceased for nearly 30 years. But many of the black and white or sepia-tinted grainy photos from that album were brought to life and the impetus for one of her most ambitious and vibrant collections. By using simple sketches and drawings, Durban creates a rough outline which comes together piece by piece until a colorful and unique work is complete.
Having been raised across the pond, specifically in South London, Durban recalls one photo that piqued her interest. “There was a picture of my grandfather, a really tall chap, with a group of other people,” said Durban, who guesses the picture was taken around the turn of the century in England. “Back then, people would get dressed up for the day and go to the seaside; much like Americans did at Coney Island. I wanted to push that story.”
With a dusty book of photographs, Durban notes she views old pictures like a blank canvas where she can user color and creativity to retell or re-imagine the stories. But putting together the pieces takes time and is a lengthy process. The artist notes there’s a lot of cutting and editing of dry material, often which is later put into place using a heat-based technique including a press iron.
As a graphic designer early on in her career, Durban recalls the days of “Lick, Stick, and Paste Up” when creating artwork and before much of her methodology changed with the rise of computer-based design programs. But the real turning point for Durban came when she relocated to the United States where her husband worked for a chemical company. Since she and her husband moved to Philadelphia on visas, she couldn’t work for the first three years in the country. “At the time, I thought “Hell Yeah, I’ll become a fine artist,” and so I volunteered for a co-op in Philadelphia called The Second Street Gallery,” said Durban jokingly, as this hiatus led to her to new artistic opportunities and lasting relationships.
After obtaining her green card and having previously traveled the world with stops in Australia and China along the way, Durban and her husband wanted to move somewhere with red soil. Having used vacation memories and pictures of red soil backdrops for landscape drawings, it’s no surprise Durban moved to Springdale, Utah where she and her husband ran a bed and breakfast for nine years.
Unfortunately, owning and operating a B&B was hardly living the dream since she felt on-call 24/7. Not only that, Durban was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease called Transverse Myelitis, affecting her spine and mobility. After going through clinical trials at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, Durban eventually found a leading neuro-physical therapist which helped her regain stability where she can now work in her art studio without using a cane or suffering from debilitating pain.
“In order to do the work I do, I have about 30 sets of exercise for my muscles. I go for walks in the morning which helps greatly with my mobility. I usually enter my studio around 3:00 PM and put in a couple of hours at a time,” said Durban. “I can’t sit down for eight hours at a time, it’s not possible.”
With a tight and structured regimen, the time allows Durban to create her collaged portraits which she still works on and is currently bouncing around some ideas for her next project or story. One of those projects involves telling visual stories of other individuals with her same medical condition. Durban intends to create some art which gives a human and artistic element to educate others about her disease. She may then take proceeds from those art pieces and collected stories to direct funds toward research and to raise awareness about Transverse Myelitis.