Deborah Halpern’s ‘Angel’ now stands by the Yarra River at Birrarung Mar, next to the Ian Potter Gallery. I’m old enough to remember her first home, in the moat outside the National Gallery of Victoria. Like all the best angels, she’s joyous, bold and memorable. It’s a work that has marked Deborah out as one Melbourne’s most loved artists.
Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia.
Deborah lives in Warrandyte, just across the river from Isiiad, with her own view of the Yarra River. Growing up in Warrandyte, she remembers the fun of having a swim on the way home from school with friends and sliding down the slopes near the footy ground until she was completely and joyously covered in mud. She also remembers the early days of the Potters Cottage (her mother was a founding member) where as a very young child she made and sold her first works. She learnt from her mother, very early in life, “that you just make stuff and sell it”. There was never any question that was what she would do in life. She has devoted her work life to making stuff, and what magnificent stuff it is! Scroll through these photos, taken in the garden of her home and her enormous studio and I defy you to feel miserable.
This is just the tiniest selection from her recent work. Her body of work is enormous and includes paintings, ceramics, sculptures and mosaic.
It’s worth trawling around the internet to find mention of other works. I found an article by Victoria Hammond published in the “Craft Australia” magazine 1987/1 where she describes a work simply called “Chest of Drawers” (a life sized ceramic dressing table complete with 27 drawers) and ponders the difficulties inherent in categorizing Deb’s work.
“Is this a piece of functional ceramic furniture, a decorated ceramic sculpture, a conceptual art object charged with sophisticated references to the the nature of art and illusion or a fantastic piece of ceramic buffoonery destined for the private apartment of a court jester.”
I wish I’d seen that piece. Irrespective of the debate, the qualities of fantasy and whimsy are embedded in the clay and tiles of her work forever.
To her great credit, Deborah finds time and energy to encourage other women to empower themselves and follow their passion. She’s involved with an organisation called Maiti Nepal, which assists survivors of child trafficking. She works directly with a small number of these women, helping them to reach their life goals. She talks with as much energy about this as she does about her work.
I left feeling uplifted and inspired. From now on, I’ll enjoy knowing that just across the river, Deborah is busy making stuff.