For this edition of Volta Basel Gallery Poulsen is proud to present a solo project by the US artist Debra Hampton
In Debra Hampton's art, beauty can be seen as both armor and weapon. In the dramatic booth installation with historical references, Debra Hampton poses critical questions about consumer culture and society’s continual focus on the body and our desire for youthful perfection. She assembles her heroines from fragments of magazine advertisements and other ephemeral material, creating powerful female figures as contemporary warriors evolved from the absurdity and abundance of luxury items, beauty products, mechanical parts and coveted weapons. The questions and critiques inspired by her collages are relevant and ongoing as we navigate times of economic hardship and one should think post-consumerism. However the quest for eternal youth, power and the promotion of unethical consumption is showing no signs of slowing down. Are we in a time of denial rather than facing the facts that there are more substantial concerns at stake?
Debra Hampton's work spans various unconventional media and process to investigate issues of commodity, identity and appropriation. She is best known for mixed media, mash-up collage portraits created from 1000s of magazine cutouts, splattered ink, and intricately stippled shapes. Accompanying the portrait series are sculpted objects such as a talisman and a full-size suit of armor.
The armor reflects the warrior-like attitude of the portraits and offers a variety of conceptual interpretations that cross-relate. Selections from the Arms and Armor Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as royal portraits including elaborate paintings of Queen Elizabeth were sources of inspiration in this series. The armor is made exclusively from post-waste, recycled plastic, which was ripped, cut, and assembled, in a similar fashion to the collages. Using discarded plastic is an important component in understanding the armor as it allowed Ms. Hampton to address one of her utmost political and social concerns- the continued disregard for environmental harm and unsustainable consumer choices.
The talisman is a unique, delicate piece which includes luxuriously valuable elements like Swarovski crystals, environmentally and culturally significant objects such as bone and stone beads, and more personal items such as discarded Xacto blades used to create the collages, cut-out backings as well as beads from a necklace worn by the artist’s deceased maternal grandmother.
According to Elizabeth Grady, Debra Hampton's ”women are clearly capable of violence, but whether that violence is practiced offensively or defensively is left uncertain. The theme is also picked up in her Suits of Armor sculpture. Sharing an iconic presence with the collages, they seem at once to be relics from some uncertain past, and a necessary tool for embracing a dangerous future. Like her figures, the suits of armor stand ready for action.
Conversely, like the armor, the figures in the collages seem strangely uninhabited by personalities, their blank eyes rendering the faces mask-like. Thus they can hide the wearer, empower them, or allow them to willingly adopt an alternate identity. Are we meant to imagine ourselves wearing these masks, hybrid but capable creatures bravely facing the future? Or is there another meaning hidden within? As much as the masks are identity-changers, they also suggest "tribal" readings, where they might work as the ceremonial costumes of shamans.”
Previously, Debra Hampton was selected by the New York City Department of Transportation to design & implement a public mural spanning 600 feet of pedestrian/bicycle pathways along the Brooklyn waterfront. In 2012, she was given a public commission to design iron tree guards and benches along Myrtle Ave in Brooklyn. Debra Hampton is without doubt, a diverse artist whose achievements span a variety of scales and formats.
Debra Hampton is included in the Museum of Modern Art Permanent Drawing Collection, NY, the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, CA and the Trierenberg Holding AG Corporate Art Collection, Austria.