Photographer and multidisciplinary artist David Drebin on the transitory nature of home. When we speak on the phone, David Drebin is at home, sort of. It is early July and the New York–based photographer and multidisciplinary artist is spending the summer in Toronto, where he was born and raised. But, he stresses, he is not here for R&R, taking it easy or chilling. “I don’t really relax and unwind, or take a break, because I love what I do,” he says. He’s working on post-production in Canada. Then he hits the road again.
“I’m here for two months and I’m happy I’m not going on a plane,” says Drebin. But then he rattles off his itinerary at a staccato pace. “Come September, I’m going to Istanbul. I’m going to Paris in November. I’m going to Berlin. I’m going to make images all over Italy. I’m going back to Miami from December until April for all these art fairs. Then my book comes out in March or April . Then I’m having shows in Munich and Berlin.”
Over the course of our conversation, it becomes apparent the esteemed artist is at home — everywhere and nowhere. When he isn’t living out of a suitcase, Drebin divides his time between Toronto and his adopted hometown of New York City. For him, home is work, and work is about crafting fantasies. (Drebin’s photography in particular is coveted by collectors for its trademark over-the-top sheen of sex, ostentation and luxurious ennui.)
Home & Away
In the early ’90s, Drebin moved to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design, lured by Manhattan’s pop cultural lustre and creative potential. “New York embraces people — all the crazies and visionaries. I think that’s why people flock to New York from all over the world. I wanted to go to what I thought was the centre of the universe,” he says. “I moved to New York to make it.”
One of Canada’s most successful commercial artists, Drebin has definitely “made it,” and he uses Manhattan as the backdrop for his own success and, frequently, the imagined successes of the beautiful people and beautiful interiors he captures in his lush cinematic lens.
Drebin’s photography is about larger-than-life luxury and beauty. Heartbreakingly beautiful femme fatales. Stunningly sumptuous condos and hotel suites. Breathtaking urban landscapes that he refers to, fittingly, as “dreamscapes.” Saturated in colour. Dramatic in contrast. So more-is-more as to be just on the right side of the tasteful-crass border. And collectors love it. Drebin is a regular at Art Miami, Art New York, Scope Basel, Photo London, Paris Photo, Istanbul Contemporary — the list is long, and growing.
“I sell luxury and fantasy,” Drebin declares, noting too that his work triggers a visceral emotional response in many viewers. Whether set in an opulent hotel room, an eye-popping landscape or a messy bed, the images are, he says, “really kind of reflections of the viewers themselves — of the life that they want to live, the places they’ve been and the places [where] they want to go.”
At Home in the World
When starting a new series or project, he considers how images may fit together in a future exhibition or book. He has already published six books with teNeues Publishing, the seventh slated to launch in early 2019. But for the most part, he avoids over-thinking or over-planning. “My process is very simple. If I have a passion for something, I find the right light for that situation and then I work on the emotion of the situation. Whether it’s a landscape or a person, that’s how I do it,” he explains.
Drebin has expanded his body of work to encompass lightboxes, etchings on glass, neon installations and photographic sculpture. He likens his forays into new media to multilingualism. “I wanted to learn many languages, and each art form was like learning a new language for me. But I speak the same in different versions and languages.” Think pouty glitter lips, leggy free-falling beauties and sassy off-the-cuff sign-offs.
Drebin is, above all, restless. As we speak, a kinetic current crackles through the line. This is a man who lives to work. He is stoked about his upcoming book, tentatively titled Before They Were Famous — a collection of Polaroids and contact sheets he shot in the early 1990s, which include subjects like Charlize Theron, Steve Jobs and Geoffrey Rush. “It’s going to be a beautifully designed book with worldwide distribution — limited- edition, hand-signed 1,000 copies, with exhibitions all over the world. I’m having exhibitions in Istanbul, in Munich, in Berlin, in Miami, in New York, in London, in Zurich…. It really is nonstop for me.” Will he miss home — that is, his bases in Toronto and New York? Nah, says this photo- graphic nomad. “I can work from anywhere.”
By Yuki Hayashi – *This article originally appeared in INSIGHT: The Art of Living | Winter 2018
Photography by: David Drebin