EK Interview: Derek Gores

art blog - Derek Gores - empty kingdom

We covered Derek Gores’ dope collage art in this post, and also featured him in our 2010’s Top 100. We recently got in touch and he told us about an upcoming show he has in LA. Never ones to miss an opportunity, we offered to give him a plug in exchange for an interview. Some of his answers were really insightful and should be highly relevant to aspiring artists of all stripes. Always awesome to see the artists we dig getting success. Hit the jump to read on, as well as a video sneak peep of him at work

Introduce yourself, where you’re from, and what you do?
Derek Gores, I have New England and FL in my blood and in my shoes…  I’m best known for torn paper collage work on canvas. I also do design work for bands and other clients, including Kings of Leon, Aerosmith, ESPN, Adidas, Van Halen, Kid Rock, Ke$ha, Madonna, Lenny Kravitz and more.

Describe your process and what about collage that drew you in?
In my charcoal and abstract work, I start from nothing and sometimes arrive at an image, but the collage is the opposite. I start with a photo shoot, where I enjoy the visual language found in fashion photography, tying in figurative expressionism (à la my heroes, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele) combined with abstract art (like franz Franz Kline especially). Using the photo as reference, I recreate the beauty using the tones and forms found in my angular scraps of paper, magazines, maps, digital textures, song lyrics. I enjoy the contradiction of finding a living, breathing person in there while mostly using rigid lines and machined schematics, crisp typography, etc as my raw materials. Here I channel Max Ernst and Rube Goldberg in forming playful spatial confusion and odd juxtapositions of content.

Tell us a little about your upcoming show(s)?
My biggest show yet, ‘Torn and Tattered’ opens this Saturday at Thinkspace in LA, a 3 person show with Craig ‘Skibs’ Barker and Liz Brizzi!
Super excited about doing the ‘Quentin vs Coen‘ show in April with Ken Harman in NYC at Bold Hype.
Text show at Parlor Gallery April 23.
2 person show at Elliott Fouts Gallery in Sacramento in November.

art blog - derek gores - empty kingdom

Can you tell us about how the concept for the Torn and Tattered exhibit came together?
The crew at Thinkspace put the trio together mid last year. We all utilize some torn paper to one degree or another. Beyond that, it’s open ended and will show our different takes on the world out there.


Are you friends with the other two artists, Craig Barker and Liz Brizzi?
So far we just got to hash out show name metaphors together via email… but by end of the weekend, look out.


You approach art beyond just the confines of the canvas and look at the greater space and community it inhabits. For the pieces that will be displayed at T&T, from what greater background did they emerge? Is there anything special about the exhibition space that attracted you to it?
In this case, it isn’t the space but the boldness of the audience I’m most excited about. The Thinkspace crowd knows art deeply, they crave that creativity fix. Thinkspace cultivates and collaborates and spreads the art love aggressively, one of my favorite pastimes (one example is the upcoming collaboration in Portland). So in that framework, I brought my best, by largest, my most personally daunting and satisfying work.

art blog - derek gores - empty kingdom

You’ve mastered the art of letting randomness guide your process. Rather than starting with a specific meaning and notion and then executing it, you’ve developed a process that allows spontaneous creativity to fit into your work. Was there a development from a more rigid mindset of “idea then execution” to the more free-flowing style you have now?
Absolutely. I was quite a renderer back at 18. Tight tight tight. But at RISD, with a couple close friends adding fuel, I was introduced to much looser ways of working. Ways to not be limited to only what you could think of ahead of time. I’ve had periods of working with both hands, working with very large and clumsy tools so as not to be able to fuss…  trying to get the hands to work as quickly as the eyes see. Instantaneously. So there’s all kinds of good form exploration in there. One of my early quotes that a friend reminded me of a couple years ago was,”I want to paint stuff, not pictures of stuff”. I used the word ‘stuff’ a lllllot back then.  Then I reached a new place with this approach in the collage, reacting to the accidental combinations in words, textures, and scales.  I enjoy things like using a distant texture, perhaps a map or a city night sky, when filling in an object close to you. That feeling of the brain trying to reconcile the confusing information is the whole reason I make these. It feels good to be momentarily confused. It’s intoxicating while creating, and intoxicating to watch on the faces of other people.
You previously worked as part of a huge company and learned a lot about art direction and leadership. Do you still work as part of a larger collective or are you 100% on your own now? Can you give some tips/stories to other aspiring artists about navigating the ultra-competitive world of commissioned work?
I am on my own now, not part of a larger company, but I definitely still work with an organic assembly of cohorts. We scale up according to the show or project. I like to be that glue kinda person who introduces people who should know each other or who can help each other. I also say the art has to win, and that the art has to be what it is meant to be, whether that means I create it or another person does.
A new collaboration is with my girlfriend Christy Boyd’s venture, Places Please! Theatre Company. We talk art and theater all the time, and the contrast of my semi-permanent but static art and her moving but momentary art is thrilling to squeeze the most out of. I have new synapses full of thoughts on minimalism, ambiguity, guts, truth, strength, and action. And Art.
As for tips, these relate to any kind of fine art:
– Be relentless, ‘Flee forward’ as artist Cliffton Chandler puts it. The ‘end’ you have in mind, or something similar, should steer you to find an endless supply of paths to get there. Don’t get blocked on one path because you were told that was the only way.
– Make your work personal. The moment I personally pursued the subjects and methods that truly captivated me, my art became interesting to other people.
– Find a way to talk about the work, share the work, write about the work to people in art circles and beyond. But do it in your voice. ‘Marketing’ doesn’t mean one thing, it should be done your way, just like your art. (Alyson Stanfield’s free salon format is a great start)
art blog - derek gores - empty kingdom
Where do you live now? Still in Florida? What about that location (or wherever you live now) helps you be creative?
Yep, Florida, on the Space Coast. Clean air, small town good stuff. But accessible to Miami, Tampa etc easily. I take adventures in LA, Chicago, Asbury Park… anywhere the art wants to go.


There’s no emphasis on creating art that has something to “get” from the point of view of the audience. No obscure references or hidden symbolism or anything like that. Instead, you just want your art to have an impact inside the mind of your viewer, no matter what baggage and previous knowledge they bring to it. Is there a specific reason or story behind why you chose to approach art in this manner?
I do have obscure references in there for my own enjoyment, and public jokes for private people too, but nothing I’d call hidden. I want the art to be felt with the senses, not with merely intellect or logic. I do have a story that got me to this point. While in college, I was part of a hometown art show, where I was the featured artist representing the collage age, and the rest of the show was made from many kids, ages K-12th grade. My friends and I could see that at around age 10, the art became self conscious, less free, slower, more attempting to mimic instead of create. I think about that often, and the factors that close people off from the thrills and newness of seeing like a child. I’m reminded of it every time I hear an adult say ‘I can’t draw a stick figure’ or something similar. I can feel that that person wants or wanted to be an artist or make art, but it was squashed out of them. Something about my use of familiar materials bridges a gap for people, and teases the senses in a way that maybe they haven’t felt since being a kid. I really enjoy that. My art is more about openness than skill and I think anyone can enjoy that.
art blog - derek gores - empty kingdom
You’ve stated that your first gig as an artist was designing things for The Grateful Dead. We have a couple of huge fans over at EK, although we may be a bit too young to claim to be authentic Deadheads. How did you get hooked up with them? Any pictures of the stuff you produced for them?
I just now peeked, but couldn’t find any… My best was probably an MC Escher style building, with waterfalls overflowing with dancing bears, and an interlocking bear sphere on the back. That was a lotta work!  I hooked up with the company Liquid Blue in Rhode Island. My favorite lesson working on Dead artwork – Of all the hundreds of tee designs for the Dead, they never wanted their band photo. Instead, our challenge as artists was to dig for metaphors in the lyrics and get beyond the obvious. I still use that in my other music design work.


There’s a focus on pushing the traditional rules that define the sphere of art. Are there any standards that you’re interested in pushing next? Are there any unnecessary limitations that you see people putting on themselves that hinder making art?
I may move off of canvas at some point. Maybe something clear would be fun to see the collage build up from behind. The unnecessary limitation I see most often is ‘default’. Default medium, default concepts, default inspiration. The better way is to start with the things you are most passionate about in life, and then tirelessly search for the way to make the art which takes you even closer to it.
art blog - derek gores - empty kingdom
Much thanks again to Derek for his time and thought to our questions and congratulations on his new shows.
art blog - derek gores - empty kingdom
art blog - derek gores - empty kingdom
art blog - derek gores - empty kingdom
art blog - derek gores - empty kingdom