art blog - Derek Weisberg - empty kingdom

THIS IS THE EMPTY KINGDOM INTERVIEW WITH DEREK WEISBERG CONDUCTED BY ASHBY RHODES

ASHBY
You’re aware that artists are extremely poor.

DEREK
Some of them.

ASHBY
So why did you get into art?

DEREK
Uuuuh, making art is one of those things that’s not about money. You know its just, you don’t do it for money, you do it cause you have to; if you don’t you’re in a bad mood, ya know?

ASHBY
When did you know you wanted to do art let alone sculpture?

DEREK
Well I started, um, doing sculpture a long time ago, like young, like a kid ya know because I was fortunate enough to have really supportive parents. They enrolled me in a ceramic sculpting program through Benecia Park and Rec when I was six. So…I pretty much just knew at that point, you know what I mean? I didn’t consciously know, I was a kid, but reflecting back on it I realize that there was a real connection for me with the material of clay and what happened when I started using it.

ASHBY
Did you pursue going or did you parents put you in it.

DEREK
Well they put me in it initially. I was already showing interest in art.  You know I was sculpting with my mash potatoes or I was taking my action figures apart and re-gluing them back together to make new toys. I was already drawing so I was already there, they saw that and put me in it; when I was in the class I wanted to keep going.

Even in high school I didn’t know I wanted to be an artist… I was still under the impression that you had to have a job… I wanted to do something creative, like Industrial Light and Magic, Pixar, modeling for them or something like that. So I went to art school, CCAC and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to do what other people told me to do. I didn’t want to create some form that was drawn before and fit into some kind of scheme. At that point after the first semester of college I was like ‘fuck this man’ this is what I wanna do. So I just put myself in a position to create work ever since.

ASHBY
So did you learn anything? If you wanted to do your own thing and that’s kinda what you were already doing what did college bring to you?

DEREK
Art is a weird thing. It’s hard to teach how to be an artist. There are lots of things that you can learn, techniques, how to apply a certain type of paint;  you have to take some academic classes you learn things so in that regard I learned skills. I created a skill set. You can’t be taught everything, it’s not like math or Science or English. There’s no grammar rules in art, and usually if there are rules set in place, you know, rules and quotes they’re gonna be broken.  You can’t be taught motivation or determination or dedication. You can’t be taught how to go to your studio and make something. You can’t be taught how to come up with ideas that move you and that’s the hard part. There’s a crazy statistic that like 90% of students that graduate art school don’t make art.  You know, its because when you get out of school there’s no system in place for you anymore. You have to go out and find a studio and once you find a studio that’s separate from your house then you’re paying two rents. You get that studio then you have to find time to go there. You have to work a job and you have to go to your studio after your job, well maybe you don’t feel like it. Maybe you’re tired, maybe you’re drained. You know whatever, like I’m not in a creative space, whatever bullshit. There’s a million excuses. I could sit on this couch and watch TV and watch a DVD or hop on the internet, all kinds of shit, but ultimately you have to turn it off, you have to turn all those excuses off.

ASHBY
Right on man! You’re like the Tony Robins of art. If you’re reading this interview we’re both in this room cause we turned off the excuses.

DEREK
That’s right. That’s right.

ASHBY
So how has your art changed since the first stuff you started making, obviously that was a while ago, till now?

DEREK
It’s interesting. The very first piece of ceramics I made was a self portrait so in that regard that hasn’t changed cause I’m still making these self portraits. I guess, from the very beginning I was really into like dungeons and dragons when I was a kid, like a nerd you know, I liked dragons and shit like that. Like Conan the Barbarian is like my favorite movie you know what I mean. I love that shit. So that’s what I liked so I would make some stuff like that. Then as I got older I like to think that I got a little more refined (laughing). I got into college and the work started to be a comment on hip hop culture cause that’s another passion of mind; I love rap music or whatever. So when I was 18 I was making little characters doing spray painting or break dancing…I realized that it really wasn’t that interesting to me to just comment on the culture and instead what I really should be doing is using the culture to comment on something else. It’s really what rap music is, they’re talking about something else in a certain style with a certain sound. So that’s kinda how I began to lean. I would use urban, whatever that means, ascetics and apply that to thinking about my own life and my own experiences and the life I live in the world around me. And that’s kinda where I’m at now.

ASHBY
It seems like the progression of your art…you’ve definitely gotten into a more traditional art feel; the art comes across as more serious.

DEREK
As you make art and grow as a person you’re gaining new experiences, you’re learning about new things…or you do it yourself. I personally look at a lot of shit. I look at as many art books as I can get my hands on from ancient Egypt through the middle ages up until contemporary art. I have a lot of influences from a lot of different times. So I think when you start getting those other influences your visual languages, the breadth of your visual language is expanded. You start to put that in the work.

ASHBY
So your saying that the maturity of your art comes from education?

DEREK
I think so. Yeah, and personal education can be through the books or through the streets.

ASHBY
Where do you see yourself in ten years?

DEREK
I don’t know, it’s far. I would like to be making art. Solely, no day job or anything like that. I would like to have big museum shows booked. I would like to own a house in ten years. I would like to be interested, still, in making stuff. I hope that in ten years I’m as inspired and curious about things as I am now.

ASHBY
Everything you want is attainable.

DEREK
You have to put yourself in the position to get what you want. The minute you’re out of the game you dont even have a choice, there’s no chance. The only way you’re gonna get what you want is by starting that path to it.  So many people I know just stopped making art. You’re only as good as the goals you set for yourself. So you set those goals and you aim for them.

ASHBY
You never had a silly night like you had a show and you ended up doing something wild?

DEREK
I’m a pretty tame dude. I mean I’ve had some crazy nights but not necessarily because of me being an artist. I do think you get some kind of art star status, but I don’t think that it’s anywhere near a rock star status.  There’s no VIP rooms to go to.

ASHBY
Do you think it’s comparable to say it’s as difficult to get your art to a point where you’re making rock star money as it is to be a rock star?

DEREK
It’s harder. It’s harder. It’s not as much as a pop culture thing as music is. It’s not a accessible as music or actors, but there are a lot of rich people in the world that want to spend money on expensive stuff. The thing about art is that it’s an investment. There are Van Gogh paintings selling for 80 million dollars, I mean he’s not around anymore but the product is big, big business. So, people buy art as an investment.

ASHBY
It’s a popularity contest. When money becomes involved it’s because enough people know your name and therefor you’re more popular and your stock is higher.

DEREK
Its perceived value. Cause really what is a fired piece of clay or oil on a canvas? There really isn’t any concrete value, it’s all very abstract.

ASHBY
How much have you sold a piece for?

DEREK
Ummmmmm…the most I’ve sold a piece for is $5000. Its a pretty big commission piece. Eight foot tall. It’s up in Sacramento some where chillin’ by a pool.

ASHBY
Where does your inspiration come from right now?

DEREK
Inspiration for the conception of the work comes from my life. Inspiration for aesthetics comes from a lot of different places. It comes from walking around in Oakland looking at graffiti.  Kids standing outside of Oakland Tech to contemporary artists like Barry Maggee or the Clayton Brothers or my friends.

ASHBY
What is the most f’ed up thing that’s ever happened to you?

DEREK
If you’re talking to an artist there is no separation between life and art. Anything that happens to you is going to inform your art. For me one of the hardest things I had to deal with… is the passing of my mother. It was a little bit over three years ago. She passed away from cancer.

ASHBY
How did it affect your art?

DEREK
It’s a complicated thing. Death is a big question. Trying to deal with my mothers death I started investigating it, looking into what other cultures have said about death, what different religions say about it. Then looking at those things and forming my own ideas about death, and then reinterpreting those things through the visual language of art. And for me that’s really what the core of art is about. It’s about the idea of truth, trying to find truth. It’s a quest that you’re on to find out what life is about, what truth is. These big, big, big questions. Religion basically tries to answer these big questions; this is my religion.

ASHBY
Has it been answered?

DEREK
No. That’s the beauty of it. You’re constantly searching. Maybe Buddha found it in enlightenment. I think there are moments where I’m making something when I don’t have the answers but something comes to me and I can feel it.

See Derek’s work at: http://www.derekweisberg.com/

Upcoming show:
Five Points Arthouse
June 3rd - 27th 2010
72 Tehama St.
San Francisco, CA 94105

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