Q&A with Deborah Halpern - Art Collector

Deborah Halpern's home. Courtesy the artist and Mossgreen.

Emma O'Neill chats to Deborah Halpern about her life as both an artist and a collector ahead of her auction "The Creative Life" at Mossgreen on 25 September, 2016.

How have your collecting habits paralleled the changes in your artistic evolution?

I surround myself with work that inspires, delights and moves me.
Sometimes I collect from a personal, intimate perspective, to embellish or embrace a part of my own story Including works by John Perceval, Arthur Boyd, Mirka Mora, Elizabeth Vasilieff. Sometimes I collect to connect with someone or to support something that I feel strongly about. For example, helping to end child trafficking in Nepal through the purchase of Nepalese wooden sculptures; The Hunger Project which seeks to end chronic, persistent hunger with the acquisition of Indian metal sculptures and Indian paintings. I have a work of Bob Dylan’s as he is an artist who has made a profound impact on mankind.

Initially my work was irreverent, funky and experimental. At Pinecotheca Gallery I discovered Glenn Morgan’s work which was both sculptural and painted. Dog-food tins became his wife’s pregnant belly, crude handles moved fishing line and hinged limbs nailed onto the paintings.

I was tickled by this funny, handmade approach to creating that was at odds with the serious, earnest works I’d grown up with. The work of Reg Mombassa (Chris O’Doherty) is so beautiful, playful, and lyrical, and yet cartoonish, addressing serious matters, like the future of the planet and our carelessness has brought me pleasure for many years. Over the years I have collected bronze work, glass work, prints, inflatable objects - all reflecting my working interests at the time.

Has preparing for this auction made you reflect deeply on your path as both an artist and a collector of art? What have you discovered?

Preparing for this auction has taken me on a journey through my life and the lives on my parents and those who have influenced me. I have become present to my parent’s courage: coming to Australia - my mother - Sylvia - from Japan and my father - Artek - from Poland at a time when the world was in flux.I have rediscovered my love for Australia, as my parents loved their adopted land.The work of John Perceval, Arthur Boyd, Fred Williams, Stazek Halpern (my uncle), the pottery and the story of the Warrandyte potters who created Potters Cottage in 1958, mortgaging their homes for the adventure that flourished in Zoc’s Farm.

My path as an artist is profoundly influenced by those creative people who have gone before. Those from Murrumbeena, Heidelberg, Eltham and Warrandyte. Finding their own way, like water though a ravine. Creating tracks, like goats across a rockface. I collect art that celebrates my immediate past, and also work that feeds my soul.

Why now? What has prompted you to sell a large portion of your personal collection?

I have an urge to clear a space - both physically and mentally - to discover what is next. I have loved living with all these objects and artworks for my whole life and those from my mother’s and father’s lives. I have been nurtured and inspired and provoked by these objects.

Now I wish to see what is next. What will appear in the space I have created. My thinking is that if I look at the same things for the rest of my life I will get the same or similar response. I am interested to see what my next environmental experiment will be.
Bob Dylan, "Horse", 2010. Courtesy the artist and Mossgreen.

As someone who was raised and always surrounded by makers in the creative community of Warrandyte, do you see the objects that you were surrounded by as integral to the development of your unique creative fingerprint?

Growing up in Warrandyte surrounded by the extraordinarily adventurous community of Potters Cottage I have always seen that one has an opportunity to offer and provide something of value to one’s community. Potters Cottage was the reason many people came to Warrandyte. For the experience created by the potters.

I was inspired to be of use, somehow, in my own endeavors. Whether it was as a yodeling, whip cracking cowgirl as a ’Flaming Star’; pushing the boundaries of ceramics to make works unlike any that I’d seen before; making monumental public sculptures to impact the conversation about public art; working with the women in Nepal, to draw attention to child trafficking, and to impact it in some way; or to make a difference to animal rights.

These are the things I have learnt from the people I grew up with.

"My Hero" Glazed earthenware totem signed to base, 108cm high. Courtesy the artist and Mossgreen.

How did you acquire many of the works made by artists other than yourself? For example, how was it that you came to own a work from Bob Dylan?

I have acquired works by visiting galleries and exhibitions, attending the wonderful Melbourne Art Fair, swapping artworks with other artists. And found others in rubbish skips.

I have been a huge fan of Bob Dylan since my teens. The difference he has made to the planet in many ways is immeasurable. I encountered an exhibition of his prints, and was thrilled that the only one still available was the one I loved the most. I was even more thrilled to see that the prints were limited editions and that Bob had actually signed each one. I have loved living with Bob’s ‘Horse’, and I image him continuing to share his unique visual snapshot of the places he visits as he tours the world.

Can you name a few possessions that you will never part with?

I have some paintings, pots and photos made by my mum, Sylvia; my dad, Artek; my uncle, Stazek; my uncle, Dzeunek; and my son - Artek(jnr).

I have books written by my great grandfather (on my mother’s side), about his time in Japan when he was a journalist and when Westerners were few. I have photos of the Halpern family in Poland, in happier times.

These objects remind me of my history, and of my courageous, adventurous and creative heritage, and future.

Who do you credit as your main influences?

My main influences are my family and the creative Warrandyte community of my youth. Others include Arthur Boyd, John Perceval, Brett Whitely, Howard Arkley, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Niki De Saint Phalle, Friedrich Hundertwasser, Joan Miro, Alexander Calder and Henry Moore.

You are parting with Marquette’s of some of the most major commissions of your career including Angel (1987-89) (National Gallery of Victoria). Are you sentimental about these pieces?

I am not sentimental about these pieces .I am proud of the works - Angel, Ophelia, Family, and all of their sculpture cousins doing good work in the world.

Can you describe how the works available are displayed in your own home and studio?

My home and garden are a joyous, whimsical, chaotic conglomeration of sculpture, paintings, prints. The walls are covered with pictures. Reg Mombassa, Minnie Pwerle, Bob Dylan, Mirka Mora, Perceval, Boyd, Stazek Halpern - all snuggled up, loving each other.

The garden has small communities of sculptures and plants. Birds and possums play around them. The Darren Gilbert metal sculpture was nestled in the bush; Bosom Woman protected the studio; birds drank and washed in the coiled pots in the garden beside the Bride, looking wistfully into the garden.
Deborah Halpern, "Tower of Heads", glazed ceramic totemic heads signed to base, 90 cm high. Courtesy the artist and Mossgreen.

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