We had the good fortune of connecting with Debra Broz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Debra, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I never really anticipated that I would run a business. Like many people who go to art school, I just assumed I would go to grad school then teach, but that’s not what ended up happening. I started looking into MFA programs, but I didn’t feel like my style of work fit in, and I worried about accruing debt. When I moved to Austin in 2005, I had a lucky break and met the person that taught me ceramics restoration. He ran his own business, and the structure of it was pretty casual. By that I mean it was just him and I—answering calls, meeting clients and doing the work. Previous to that I’d never really thought about business as a one-person venture, but this made me realize it was possible. Starting my own ceramics restoration business has given me a reliable source of income where I mostly love the work and am in control of my schedule. The additional good fortune of operating in a niche market with relatively little competition for clients has enabled me to make money and maintain my art practice more or less the way I want to.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I make sculptures from objects I find at thrift stores, on the street, and online in the secondhand market. I work primarily with vintage animal figurines, cutting them apart and piecing them back together to make new works that retain the integrity of the original figurines but give them an unusual twist. I combine different pieces together, and relocate and duplicate ears, paws and legs to create seamless little oddities that look as if they were originally produced that way. Right now I’m working on a bunch of new sculptures for a show coming up in January at Paradigm gallery in Philadelphia. The work is all in-progress at the moment, but there will be a lot of sneak peeks on my Instagram (@zebrazorb) between now and then. I’ve also been making some new works—the Fur-niture—which is found furniture covered in secondhand stuffed animal parts. I started making the Fur-niture as a site-specific installation in the alley behind my studio as part of a drive-by art show last spring. It grew into a second installation this fall—a Fur-niture living room complete with chairs, tables, lamps, and a part-stuffed-bear-part-human rug. The installation was shown through Track 16 gallery at the first iteration of High Beams (www.highbeams.art), a series of socially distanced outdoor art shows organized by several L.A. art collectives. Alongside my art practice I have my ceramics restoration business, Science of Art Restoration. I restore everything from contemporary sculpture to art pottery to sentimental items and collectibles. I often use restoration techniques in my art, and the objects I restore sometimes inform the sculptures I create. Having my own business allows me a lot of flexibility, and I get to spend the majority of my time in the studio whether it’s working on restoration projects or on artwork. Currently, I’m also Co-Director of eight-member collective Monte Vista Projects. Our members curate exhibitions of L.A. artists in the gallery space we share with Tiger Strikes Asteroid at the Bendix building. Since the pandemic, we’ve been hosting by-appointment exhibits in our space, but have also expanded to work with High Beams outdoor shows. My studio is at Gallery Also— a working studio and curatorial group. I also work with the arts nonprofit Center for Cultural Innovation as a workshop leader for their Business of Art series, and in a variety of other project and grants management roles. Being involved with things like this is the way I meet other artists and stay connected to the art community. It also allows me to share the things I’ve learned over the past 20-ish years making art, running a business, curating shows, and creating all kinds of (often somewhat ridiculous) projects. I don’t think having a business or simultaneously working on multiple projects necessarily works for everyone, but if you’re the type of person who is willing to learn and do the work it can be rewarding. Having a variety of self-directed income sources has given me the ability to maintain my art practice, and made me aware that it is possible to use my skills in a format that works best for me, even if it’s a non-traditional or seems more risky. Growing up, I never imagined a life like this was possible—and I have been surprised to find out that it actually is. It sounds corny, but I constantly feel lucky that this is the work that I do.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My priorities for visitors are seeing art and spending time outside. I like to take people to the Getty for the art and the views, and/or for an sunset hike up the hill to Griffith Park Observatory for more views and their odd planetarium show. I also like to walk around in one of the spots with a lot of galleries, like the Arts District/Santa Fe avenue, or La Cienga boulevard, and end with happy hour sitting outside at the Hammer museum or at one of the restaurants near Hauser & Wirth. I might think about taking someone out thrifting too. There are some real thrift store gems in the San Fernando Valley.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to shoutout two great people: Emily Blythe Jones, who is an artist and Co-Director at Monte Vista Projects (@emilyblythejones on Instagram), and Carl Baratta, who is also an artist and Co-Director at Tiger Strikes Asteroid Los Angeles (www.carlbaratta.com). These two are relentlessly hard workers, to the point where it seems like they must not sleep. They both make really cool art, and they are also both committed to the art community. Besides making work themselves, they show the work of others, and are ambassadors for art in LA while being welcoming and inviting new ideas. I met both of them when I was at a point where I was struggling to figure out where I fit into the art scene, and they both really helped me feel like LA could be a place where I belonged.