This first interview for features Memphis artist Deborah Fagan Carpenter.  I commissioned Deborah to create the dust cover for my book of short stories that was published in April of 2011.  I have owned one of Deborah’s major paintings for several years and I have always admired her work.

Abstract acrylic by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Abstract acrylic by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Delta Days book cover by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Delta Days book cover by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

The design of the book jacket gave me an excellent opportunity to visit with Deborah at her studio just east of Memphis in Brunswick, Tennessee.  I took this time to interview Deborah about her work and her career.  Here is that interview:

TRL:   I‘ve known you for most of the time you’ve had your studio in this rural area east of Memphis, and I’ve enjoyed following your career.  Could you tell me how you began working as an artist?

 DFC:   I received a BA in Fine Art from Mississippi University for Women, but my art career began simply as the result of a series of life events, rather than because of any intention on my part to actually become a working artist.  I married after graduation from the “W” and moved to Florida, but shortly after my son was born, that marriage failed and I found myself a single mom with a toddler to support.  I moved to Memphis and found a job working as an interior designer for a local furniture store, which is where I began using my art background professionally.   

In the early 90’s, now in my second marriage, I began pottery classes with Dale Baucum at the Memphis College of Art and later with Ellen Boehm at her studio in Eads, Tennessee.   I also attended a couple of two-week seminars in clay at the Appalachian Center for Crafts. In order to justify this hobby, I began teaching adult pottery classes at a community center, and joined the Memphis Potters’ Guild, which provided me with a venue for selling my work.  At this time, I was one of only a couple of potters in the Memphis area who was working in the Japanese firing process, Raku.  After the demise of my second (and hopefully final) divorce, I moved here to Brunswick, when I found the perfect place to live, work and show my art.  It was here that I discovered an allergy to something in clay, and so I revisited my original training and interest, painting. 

Winter Sunset Abstract Painting by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Winter Sunset Abstract Painting by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

TRL:   I’ve seen your career really blossom yet you continue to sell your work almost entirely independently.  Do you have an interest in gallery representation?

DFC:      During my pottery days, several galleries in east and middle Tennessee carried my work, and I had some work in the Mid-Town Gallery in Nashville and the Riverside Gallery in Memphis at the beginning of my professional painting days.  Early in my career, I thought that the only way to be a commercially successful artist was to have the support of a major gallery, and while that is probably true, I’ve managed to sell a whole lot of art here out of my own studio.  I have never settled into doing one thing in my painting, so I’ve never developed a recognizable style, which is what major galleries typically want.   I’m always exploring new techniques, which may always be the case; at least I don’t see it changing any time soon.

TRL:  Exactly how do you market your work?

DFC:   I host a couple of shows each year here at the studio, and I work with a number of local designers. They can really be a painter’s bread and butter.  I’ve had a web site for a number of years that helps to boost my name recognition, and is an online gallery for potential clients to be able to see the breadth of my work.  Social Media is an incredible marketing tool, which I’ve just begun to utilize to promote myself.  And recently, a notable local gallery owner, David Perry Smith invited me to join his stable of artists at his charming gallery in Memphis.   In spite of the fact that I don’t necessarily have a discernible style, there is a consistency to my work that has attracted clients who may own as many as four to six of my paintings.  They may not be collectors, but they certainly have been loyal clients, and I’m grateful for them.

Spontaneous Participation Abstract Painting by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Spontaneous Participation
Abstract Painting by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

TRL:  Tell me more about the shows at your studio.

DFC:   The shows here in this country home are really unique and special, not only because the house is so interesting and inviting, or because the outdoor setting is so beautiful, but because nobody expects to see the kind of quality of work that we present, and they don’t expect to see it displayed in such a professional manner.  Jimmy Crosthwait almost always shows his fascinating mixed media sculptural pieces along with my paintings, and our work compliments each other beautifully.  Because this is a home setting, people can get an idea how the work might be used in their own home.  The whole house and garden are open to the guests, who are encouraged to wander about, and we serve fabulous finger foods and beverages.  It’s really so much fun, and so relaxing, and rarely is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy the visit, and some of them actually leave with a wonderful piece of fine art.   

Harmony of Balance bstract Painting by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Harmony of Balance bstract Painting by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

TRL:  Who has had the most influence on your work?

DFC:   There are many artists that I admire and whose talent I envy, but I would be embarrassed to say that they have influenced me, or that there are elements of their work in mine.  I think life has impacted my work more than anything. 

TRL:  Where do you get your inspiration?  Who is your Muse?

DFC:   I don’t think there’s any question that Nature is my Muse, even in the strictly abstract work.  I want my paintings to be in harmony with nature and to reflect that beauty and tranquility.  I’m also fascinated with ancient architecture and weathering contemporary architecture, and what effects nature has had on their graceful aging. Therefore, the work is often influenced by the crumbling ruins of decaying structures.   But any artist’s work is decidedly impacted by the events of their lives, whether that is obvious in the subject or simply evident in the depth and complexity of the work. 

TRL:  What’s on tap for your future?

DFC:   Life continues to present me with new challenges and opportunities for emotional growth, and there’s just no way for that not to be reflected in my work.  So I see the work maturing and a certain level of confidence emerging, which will likely take me in new directions.  I’ve always enjoyed photography, and I hope to take that to a higher level, and to perhaps marry it with some creative writing in the near future.

Just Before The Storm abstract painting by Deborah fagan Carpenter
Just Before The Storm abstract painting by Deborah fagan Carpenter

TRL:  Thanks for taking your time to visit with me.  I look forward to the exciting changes in your creative endeavors.

DFC:  Thanks for your interest.




4 thoughts on “An Interview with Deborah Fagan Carpenter by Tom Lawrence

  1. Maggie Mahaffey

    After all these years!!! Your paintings are beautiful. Really proud of you. Maggie

    1. Thanks so much Maggie! It’s good to hear from you!

  2. Leah Kolt

    I went to school with Deborah and enjoyed reading the articles about and by her very much. Looking forward to seeing Delta Days.

    1. Leah, hope you were finally successful in “signing up!”

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