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Derick Smith

Artist Spotlight

There is an inherent power to each color and sometimes that can only be released when played against another color. 

Derick Smith's powerful artworks pose an exploration of the medium of painting by pushing its boundaries and imbuing his pieces with a textural and sculptural quality. His work is the product of an investigation into meaning-making and intensive dialogue between exceptionally vibrant colors that seem to, literally, leap off the surface.


With a background in sculpture, design, architecture, fashion, and photography as well as family roots in traditional handcrafts, the artist has a deep love for working directly with physical materials. By way of manipulation of the medium, he aims to pay homage to tradition while simultaneously exploring new and unfamiliar territories within the realm of painting. We interviewed the artist to learn more about his artistic process. 


Q. Your work has a sculptural quality, how did you arrive at this unusual manipulation of your material?

A. The historical baggage of painting as an art form, the inherent restrictions that are in place, give rise to a series of creative challenges in which I came to relish. How can you create something vital within such an overcrowded medium? How can you pay homage to those who came before and at the same time subvert the current direction to break open new territories? These kinds of questions led to the current state of play. I began my career in sculpture with found objects and assemblages so the need and feeling for that dimension has always stayed with me.

Q. You have stated that your work is the product of an investigation into ideas of meaning-making; could you describe your artistic research process and how your works are a reflection of this? 

A. In the first place you have to consider where this ‘meaning’ comes from when looking at any painting. Much of it seems to exist and be activated before one even lays eyes on the work itself. Consider how the artist name, title, price tag, context affect the read of the image, all external references. Very often it seems that one simply brings ideas to the canvas to be confirmed or disputed. Is this painting beautiful? Is this painting ugly? Does it conform or pull away from my ideas and by how much? What then is the measure of this beauty or ugliness? Is it simply recognition or something else? 

The artist explains:

From these questions and first principles, I work up a series of smaller studies, sometimes hundreds, in an effort to refine or parse some kind of substance from the base materials. I don’t want to confuse the mix so I avoid painting figuratively in favour of working with only the elemental qualities such as depth, weight, texture, colour, shadow, form etc. You can convey a sense of heft or weight by depicting an elephant standing on a narrow wooden bridge but that’s an abstraction, to my mind. You ‘know’ an elephant is heavy because you have been told so. But on another level, visually or from direct observation, what is it that tells us something is heavy or light, Is it possible to feel with just the eyes?

Generally, questions are central to my practice and using them as jumping off points I begin to work up a cycle of paintings. In this way I examine ‘meaning-making’ by stripping away as much as I can to purify and refine what remains.

Q. What would you like to express with your exceptionally vibrant color palette?

A. There is an inherent power to each color and sometimes that can only be released when played against another color. So I myself, find a kind of narrative effect that happens, the push and pull when moving from one color to the next and how it plays on its neighbor. My reading of the work is not that important. I feel something magical happens when you bring such colors together and that, to me, is not an intellectual thing.

Q. There seems to be a playful element to your work; do you employ this as a tool to engage the viewer?

A. Yes, fundamentally my work is all about play as a means of exploring possibilities. If the viewer sees the work on social media then the chances are they were just a few clicks away from the latest negative trend in politics or environmental catastrophes. There is a gravity and severity to every little thing now so that the simple everyday joy is throttled. There is always another hot topic to rob you of your precious inner space, to fill up the inner chambers of your heart with grief and fear and suspicion. I don't want my work to contribute to that onslaught, to be another doomsayer in an overcrowded market. 

The world needs your love, your light, now more than ever precisely because things are as they are. I chose to honor the playful aspects of creation, to elevate with play, as a move towards healing.

Q. Which other creatives, books, music, or movies inspire you?

A. Well, that's the question really, if one knew where and how to find inspiration externally then one would be stuck fast to it all the time. To me, such a thing comes from emptying the cup rather than filling it up and I find that in meditation. It’s about cleaning the mirror, to use John Coltrane’s expression, in order to see the familiar anew and clear away the everyday dust. Sometimes a book or painting or movie can move me that way, but that really is because it uncovered something rather than implanted it. As far as artist names that are with me lately then it would be Krista Kim and her push for healing energy. I also really enjoy the transcendent aspect of the desert-scapes in Benjamin Rozsa’s paintings and, closer to home, the drive for constantly finding new edges in Neil Dunne’s work.

Q. What would you like your work to evoke in the viewer?

A. Anything from curiosity to intrigue to wonder. If there is any kind of response, any kind of engagement other than basic recognition, then that’s where I'd like to be heading.


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