From her native Melbourne to her longtime home in the Bay Area to her new home of Los Angeles, the prolifically positive street artist Deb (just Deb) has livened up walls all over the world. Among the many iterations in murals, canvases, and designs, her current appearance as part of the Street Art Alive experience at the Lume in DTLA is one of the most exciting — it’s huge scale, motion visuals and color-saturated light is the perfect platform for Deb’s bright palette and engagingly fantastical figures and creatures who are always ready to keep things happy in the moments they create.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
DEB: As young as I can remember, I’ve been painting, drawing, and creating art. It’s all I wanted to do as a child. I drew on everything I could find. In school, all the desks were covered in my drawings. I got in trouble at school for it, but I kept doing it. There wasn’t enough art class time.
What is your short answer to people asking about your work?
It’s something that I don’t really like to be categorized as a whole because it changes depending on what’s happening around me. Sometimes it’ll be a portrait of a real person or a made-up person, an animal or a made-up fantasy creature, but a lot of my works are from a lot of influences from life around me at the time and things that I may be experiencing or affected by. Many of my artworks are based on something I’m going through, even if it’s the hardest of times but set in fictitious surroundings as a form of escapism. I guess you could categorize a lot of my works in the fantasy-style pop-surrealism category. Whoops that’s maybe not a short answer!
I do want to say though, that I’ve been in the industry for many years and collaborated with amazing artists, had amazing opportunities, and achieved a lot. But at the same time, I’m open to change and progression all the time as I grow. Also, I never want to think that I can’t grow, learn, change, and still be inspired as I get older. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also learned to take the time to be inspired by my peers, older artists, and the younger generation too because there are so many new and amazing styles, and age is just a number. Definitely, our skills are developed and mastered over time, but some artists these days freakishly fly in hot right off the bat. With a lot of talent, drive, and energy, we can all learn from each other. And should all be open to it and not box talent by age. I choose to surround myself with artists and creative people older and younger because every creative individual can bring something to the table for inspiration. I’ve been thinking more and more about how important this is since the pandemic. Every artist wants to be seen and heard through their journey.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
That’s a tough one. My brain is creatively wired, but maybe a paleontologist. I love and am fascinated by prehistoric creatures. Or perhaps a veterinarian. I love animals. I’ve been getting into some acting of late also. I always wanted to be an actress growing up. I always had the lead in school theater performances and was always into it. I went to an acting and art school in my last two years of high school, so I always had the intent to chase this dream also. But my art career grew fast in my 20s, and I got very caught up in that. When I turned 40, I decided it wasn’t too late to become an actress, so I moved to L.A. to pursue my other dream. And I have been pushing for that out here, too, since I moved here; I enjoy acting. I will forever be a painter, but I also have other dreams and never want to let anyone make me think it’s too late to chase them!
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I went to an all-art and acting school from 16-18 in Australia, and then I did some college. I have a graphic design diploma and have taken some other art courses. That has helped with design work and gallery exhibitions throughout the years. But when I was young, there was no spray painting school. You had to learn from other painters you knew of or had access to (in the life of no internet yet) and then develop your style. I painted a lot with other graffiti and mural artists when I was younger, but the techniques I used to create my work were mostly self-taught; I had to find my way. I also came up when it was a heavily male-dominated industry. There was a steep hill to push up at first, but I kept pushing it till it became a full-time career, and I’ve painted countless murals and been a part of countless art exhibitions. I’ve been consistently active.
Before the major hiccup of pandemic life, my inbox was always full of picking and choosing from amazing art opportunities for a very long time. The pandemic was the first time in most of my adult life that I was aware that there wasn’t enough work available for many artists due to the state of the world and the financial hard times falling on everyone, including people that might usually commission or collect art. Art had momentarily become a luxury item, not a necessity. But for artists, it is a necessity as we generally will not feel right or balanced if we aren’t creating.
I finally feel like things are getting a lot better again, thank goodness. I don’t know anyone that wasn’t temporarily affected in some way. I had many tough days through the worst of the pandemic, emotionally and physically, and I have had a very challenging time adjusting to what we call a regular life. I’m always trying to be optimistic as much as possible, but there have been some dark days for me in the last couple of years. I want to thank everyone who continued to support creative people through this crazy time in the world.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I am from Australia and have lived in San Francisco for almost seven years. Previous to living in L.A., I painted murals everywhere in the Bay and then traveled a ton to paint and exhibit my art. I was coming to L.A. quite a lot, showing my art here too, and I loved the warm weather. I feel better in warm weather; it gets cold in SF. I absolutely love SF with all my heart, but since I’ve always aspired to be a real-life mermaid and love to swim and get into the ocean without completely freezing, I feel the need to be living in warmer weather. I relocated to L.A. exactly three years ago today — July 4, 2019. I was celebrating finding an apartment out here and starting a new life. Little did I know It was only half a year before the pandemic hit hard, so it’s been an interesting time to start a new life. Honestly, I feel like I’m only getting settled now, almost three years later!
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
Currently showing in an amazing exhibit in Downtown called The Lume Los Angeles which is an incredible digital Street Art experience. There are a selection of amazing artists from all over the world and it runs through summer. Also currently working on a new mural at an iconic building on Western in Hollywood called the Pink Elephant that’s been around since 1962. I’m in the process of setting a solo show that I can spend good time on, but it will be next year so I can’t talk about it yet — but I’m always promoting what’s coming up on my social pages. I would also like to travel more again to paint in other countries and cities like I used to be doing regularly, now that things are getting a little better.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?
Oh wow. So many. But I’ll pick a dead one. Hieronymus Bosch was a 15-16th century artist. His art was super kooky. I would love to have collaborated with him or even spend a day with him playing a 15th-century version of Pictionary or something.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
I listen to loads of music. I’m always listening out for new music on different platforms, but my go-to is mostly Soul, RnB, Rap, and Rock. Also, I often binge on the 60s and 70s music a lot of the time when I paint. So my aesthetic is heavily influenced by the 60s and 70s.
Website and social media handles, please!