Deborah Schenck awaits the spring

PUBLISHED: 09:52 20 December 2007 | UPDATED: 14:57 20 February 2013



An unusual technique using Polaroid images, combined with inspiration from the environment, is the hallmark of Deborah Schenck's work which can be seen at the Flavel on Dartmouth this January.

The lanes and pebble beaches of South Devon provide much of the inspiration behind the work of photographic artist Deborah Schenck who has recently returned to her Devonian roots from Vermont in the USA.

Deborah can now be found in her tiny two-room studio in Foxhole, Dartington surrounded by examples of her colourful work. She describes her move to Devon as "a new chapter after a time of transition". Deborah, her fiancé and her two children have now made their home near Blackawton where the children attend the local primary school and where she feels very much at home after 17 years in the States.

Deborah started life in Devon and moved to Staffordshire where she studied photography followed by an apprenticeship as a film editor with the BBC in Manchester. She believes the greatest influence on her life was when her great-uncle George gave her an old Hasselblad Polaroid camera when she was at college. With this camera she has won several awards for her work.

Her expertise as a photographer has enabled her to develop an unusual technique whereby a Polaroid image is transferred to watercolour paper or other media such as old letters or even raw plaster and wood. Her tools are a standard Polaroid camera and film. She will shoot a rose in full bloom and instead of waiting the recommended minute for the image to develop, she tears the Polaroid apart after ten seconds and presses the image onto watercolour paper. Her work is very distinctive, with its bold use of colour and photographs of treasured items from her surroundings. She frequently uses split background imagery with its balance of 'yin' and 'yang', which she feels gives a greater depth to her work.

Deborah is greatly influenced by the colour and shapes in her natural surroundings and is closely involved with nature through gardening. This appreciation came about when she travelled round the world in her early twenties. She is passionate about travel and was particularly impressed by the Indian subcontinent with its vibrant and exotic colours. "I loved meeting the people there, observing their way of life, appreciating their culture."

In Vermont Deborah lived and worked from a beautiful but isolated studio for 12 years, and though she loved the American way of life and built up a significant following for her work, was keen to seek out a fresh environment. She lived in the Loire Valley in France for a year - a year of constant inspiration - where she exhibited different aspects of her work, including an outdoor show in metal, and an exploration of her work in porcelain, tiles and wood, showing how images can be used on different surfaces.

Much of Deborah's work now centres on various licensing projects, which include Studio Vertu wall art on metal and wood veneer; boxed cards for Barnes & Noble in the USA; posters and limited-edition prints for The Art Group; Schenck designs on fabrics for home furnishings for Mar Che in Toronto; and fun and quirky handbags "for the women who want to carry art on their arm" for Brag Bags in New York.

Recently a new line in bone-china mugs with Schenck imagery has come onto the shelves in the UK. The china company Hudson & Middleton in Stoke-on-Trent are producing hand-dipped porcelain mugs in the traditional way, each one incorporating a striking Schenck image of a flower. Deborah's success also extends to publishing and in 1998 Chronicle Books published Fern House - a year in an artist's garden. The imagery for this book came from her own garden and she is now working on the design for another book.

Deborah maintains that she is not just an artist. "Much as I would like to be into fine art, I have to make enough money to maintain my family and make a living." To this end she is constantly looking for new ways of expressing her ideas, quite often in three-dimensional form.

"I want images to work together to create a whole feeling. In nature there is a perfect balance and this is what I try to capture. It is not just about taking photographs, but being able to create something which can then become usable art, as with my cushions, tiles and mugs. I want my art to be something that is part of the surrounding environment and not just an image on the wall, and through my images I like to invite people to slow down."

Deborah's work has been widely exhibited over the past decade, including three solo exhibitions at the Broome Street Gallery and the Photography Gallery in New York, as well as her exhibitions in France. Her first showing in the UK will be at the Flavel in Dartmouth.


Deborah Schenck's exhibition 'Awaiting Spring' can be seen at The Flavel in Dartmouth from 4 January - 3 February 2008. Opening hours: Mon to Sat 10am-3pm. The exhibition may be viewed outside these hours if there is an event taking place at the Flavel. 01803 839530

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