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From the pages to the fingers of artist Derek Gores, mad genius

Photo Credits: Derek Gores

The canvas and mind are blank. When will the inspiration come?  Stacks of magazines and newspapers in the corner.  Suddenly a page leaps out and a cocoon forms to lock in the creativity.  The mind and hands start playing a symphony to create a masterpiece.

Let me introduce you to internationally renowned artist, Derek Gores.  I have purchased my ticket for his symphony and am taking my seat.  He is successful.  He has a savvy mind he knows his market and clients and gives them what they want.  He has designed a business strategy to work with his favorite brands.  I asked ‘How did you come to work for all these brands; Playboy, Kentucky Derby, TLC and Tag Heuer?”  He replied simply, ‘I just called them and told them my vision.”  I feel the silk tapestry of the cocoon forming and I am about to enter the creative process of the mad genius artist work.  The band is seated and conductor is coming on stage.   Sit back, listen and celebrate the masterpiece being created.

Photo Credits: Derek Gores

How does your process begin?  How do you get your vision from start to finish using clippings?

The spark can come from any point on the chain. A color, a pose, even a bit of text on a scrap of paper that suggests a title. But generally, for my collage pieces I take (or commission) photographs with a model, space or object, then deconstruct them digitally, playing with added textures. I usually include song lyrics of something I'm listening to, plus schematics from an old favorite toy or guitar, or map of a favorite place. Using acrylic medium and a cheap brush, I cover a canvas with magazines, pretty randomly, with colors and textures that appeal at the moment. I then cut up or rip the printed digital parts somewhat blindly, and glue them to the canvas. After adding more layers of found details from magazines, I step back and assess, aiming for a sweet spot where the art is somewhat recognizable, yet pleasantly confusing as well. I work quickly and on several pieces at once to get beyond linear control. When done, I add a UV protectant varnish, and it is ready to hang. I usually title the art using words found in the finished piece.

What is the environment around you like when you are working?  Are you solo, buried in a studio, or around life?  What do you require to work?

Apparently my life is collage-like, pulling from many inspirations to hopefully add up to something. Before I get down to work, I wander a good bit, go see people, see what they’re making, feel the sun, get some nature. Good ideas come while distracted. I tend to make the work in waves, because it takes a certain momentum and mental energy. Once I’m gluing and ripping, it is “on” for several full blast days. Around me I have many half-ideas, half-tangents waiting for the right moment. Brian Eno’s deck of cards, old car hood ornaments, drawings done with kids, blunt tools, shapes made with tape on the floor, and ideally a few empty tables to work on. I work best when stuff is in the right place before I start and make a new mess. I have a wall of magazines, and a few bins sorted by warm colors, cool colors, black and white, and a special spot for metallic, of course. Ambient music usually on the stereo, stuff without lyrics or a beat, to open up the mind.

Photo Credits: Derek Gores

How do you choose your subject for your pieces? What is your favorite subject to highlight in your work?  Fashion?  Animals?  Butterflies?

Well, the main subject, whether directly or indirectly, is the figure, the living being, the strong woman. Even if showcasing a butterfly, or a surreal still life or landscape, I still think of those as being in her world. She’s my feminist superhero; independent, wise, expressing herself, rendered with utmost respect. Always in on the moment with us. Most often she isn’t anyone you’d know, not a celebrity.

What does it feel like to make your art? What is it about collage?

It’s my psychedelic drug! When I was younger, art was rendering. It was having an idea or an image in mind and then 99% of the rest of the time was execution. Now, in collage, each scrap I pick up adds to a story that is out in front of me, like a Zen experience. The art can change even with the last piece put down. It is improvisation, and it feels wonderful to attempt to orchestrate it.

As I began my search in fine art, I wandered into my figurative subject in order to play in the world of my art heroes. Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt brought lively line and dramatic abstract composition to figurative art 100 years ago. To my eye, today's fashion photography is still built on their aesthetic. I found a sweet spot when I realized that the chaos of collage could be my frenetic line. Part of why I enjoy magazines as my medium is this: because they are disposable, because they are filled with commercialism, you get an unexpected reaction when the contents are re-formed to create something potentially as long-lasting as art. Humble materials anyone could play with.

What were you doing before taking the leap into fine art?

Right after RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), I worked in licensed music, creating shirt and poster designs for bands. Grateful Dead, U2, Van Halen, Depeche Mode and Madonna. I enjoyed the challenge of creating visual art to match a sound, like some kind of sensory translator. Next I worked for several years in licensed sports, for all the big leagues.

Photo Credits: Derek Gores

How did you come to work with so many brands in your collage work?  What was your thinking and business plan on getting commissioned for them?

After years in commercial art, I actually steered clear of commissions for several years. I knew I had to find my own personal footing in my work first. And I did. I experimented just for me, made shows for myself and with a wild assortments of cohorts in different fields, and found what made my hands happy. Then eventually brands starting seeking me out, for my look, my work. Some of the early ones I recall were the Kentucky Derby, Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, and Nick Knight for SHOW studio. That one was a fun break - Nick asked me to do my thing inspired by Milan Fashion Week. I got the first peek at new looks by Prada, DSquared2 and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Now I embrace it, if I like the brand and what they’re about. I’d say about half I track down (such as the Playboy Hugh Hefner Tribute cover art), and about half seek me out. I say no lots, but I love collaboration, so I do seem to come from a place of “yes.”

Do you believe there is a bias against commercially successful artist instead of the long, suffering artist? Oh, maybe. Some folks feel that way. But to me if it was good enough for Warhol, and good enough for Beatles music in iPod commercials, it is good enough for me. But I’m a canvas-half-full kind of guy. I don’t need everyone to like it. I only need a 1-to-1 ratio of art lovers to art.

How do you pick where to show your work?  How to market?  Who is the audience you find? 

I think my early years of hustling taught me to make my own luck, and not just wait for galleries. So, my mix includes galleries, but also events and alternative venues. Because I use fashion magazines as my medium, I like to play in that tangent and create live-for-runway shows and other interactive events.

For marketing, I think of it as just telling my story, sharing what I care about. I’ve tried many things, from postcards to newsletters to handwritten notes on ripped magazine pages. I’ve jumped in at art fairs, boutique design fairs, been hired for trade shows. I probably lean toward live interactions, where I can meet people and they can see the process. That feeling of participating in art brings you back to being a kid. That’s a great spot for a human as well as a brand. It’s like win/win.

 

Do you believe where you grow up or how you grow up affects the type of art you do?  How did growing up on the East Coast and then moving to Florida as a young kid shape you?

Absolutely! In New England, I learned to appreciate history, and harmony with nature. I was young, but I still picture our little slate walkway, and how my Dad shaped the grass and pachysandra plants in our yard, with gentle touches each weekend. And in Florida, I live on the Space Coast. The intellect it took to walk on the moon, mixed with the pop-surf culture here, is potent stuff. And key is that the Space Coast is a hungry place, not yet fully defined as in some parts of the country. My friends and I thrive on helping shape what is next.

 

You have conquered many arenas.    What is your dream collaboration and how are you making that happen?

Dreams? Ok: Lady Gaga, Julianne Moore, all dressed to the nines in Tom Ford.   Accompany David Bowie’s ghost in a convertible Lamborghini. Riding up the steps at the Met Gala to a show titled “Feeling So (Sur) Real”, where I collage with one hand and draw with the other as guests sip Bombay Sapphire. All for one glorious Lady Gaga music video. How am I making that happen? Better ask my publicist.

With so many opportunities available now for the creative thinker, and daily inspiration around us, can we value the successful living artist?  There has been a narrative in the public consciousness that we value the artist that suffers for their art. Most will be long deceased before their art has value. I asked Derek, ‘With the world being a playing field for the artist, how do you decide what to invest in?’ Derek told me, “There are so many paths into art, as an artist and collector. But generally, from a collector’s standpoint, if an artist is relentlessly passionate, unstoppable, prolific… you might be on to someone whose work might appreciate as an investment too.  I always say go with your heart.”

Photo Credits: Derek Gores

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