Immersive Studio Visit (VR)
Immersive Studio Visit – Derek Weisberg
Amy Gahyun Lee
May 20, 2019
While many sculptors in history, including the mythical Pygmalion, sculpted human ideals to overcome human imperfection, all the portraits created by New York-based artist Derek Weisberg present humanity itself, in all its finitude and imperfection.
His works are mostly figurative (the least we can say is that they are somewhat based on human form) but by being visually distorted, imbalanced, and imperfect, his portraits resist conventional aesthetic standards.
What Weisberg conveys through his portraits is an authentic state of humanity “being alive while holding the daily awareness of the inevitability of death,” the daily emotion sprouted from this perception of human finitude. In other words, all of his distorted and incomplete figures reflect the human being itself, our true being in this era consisting of multiple layers of complicated narratives.
“How fleeting life is. We are all here with a limited time and capacity. We all exist with the knowledge that one day our last breath will expire. How do we operate and move though life knowing this?”
Since last September, Derek Weisberg has been using a rent-free, non-living studio space awarded by the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program in Brooklyn, New York. His studio, like that of a stage where we can see faces of a variety of people, is packed with his past and recent series of artworks assembled with ceramics, stoneware, wood plaster, and other found objects, as well as tools, equipment, basic images, and materials which have had a major impact on his sculpture practice.
Eazel: Can you introduce your studio? How long have you been using it as your workspace?
Derek Weisberg (DW): I am incredibly fortunate to have been selected as one of the artists to receive a Sharpe-Walentas studio for the 2018-2019 session. The Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, whose mission is to provide working studio space and community for artists, offers rent-free, non-living studio space in DUMBO, Brooklyn for a year for each of the 17 visual artists. (Artists are selected annually based on merit from a competitive pool of applicants by a professional jury comprised of artists and members of the SWSP Artists Advisory Committee.) I started the residency in mid-September last year and will be staying here until the end of August.
Eazel: How long do you usually stay and work at the studio a day?
DW: I try to put myself in a full eight-hour working day, at the least, but am often here for more than eight hours. I love working, and I think it is the one thing in my life that [has] made me full of joy and fulfillment. I rarely find myself in an artistic block, and I always feel that there seems to be more work to do than I can keep up with.
Eazel: Where do you usually get inspiration? What drives you to create?
DW: Life. It may sound cliché, but I really draw inspiration from all the subtleties and complexities of life, including my personal life, the world I have been engaging in, and the larger world that I learn and am informed about. The human experience is great, since it always provides us an infinite amount of inspiration.
Sometimes I also get inspiration from some images and previous artists who represent the history of visual depictions of the human condition. I have collected these images (below) and I think that these images are an analogy for what I try to do with my work, which is generally to convey the human experience and condition by combining very disparate influences into one work.
Eazel: Most of your works have partly human-like figures but are distorted or incomplete. I am wondering who they are.
DW: They are you and can be me. They are actually everyone [whom] you know and [whomever you] have heard of. I am interested in exploring something about what it means to be human. What it means to be a conscious being aware of our own finitude. They represent all of our fragility, vulnerabilities, and dysfunctions but also our beauty and elegance. They are attempts, navigations, and understandings of all the challenges and celebrations that we all face in our real life.
Eazel: I saw a series of hand sculptures positioned in-line near a window, and some sculptures that do not really have hands nor arms. What do these hands mean to your work and were these hands once a part of the sculpture?
DW: I believe hands are a tool for visual representation, as they convey so many things (some people have said that hands are the windows to a person's soul). They are incredibly expressive, and I think they can sometimes even express more than words can. In some cases, they can be the actual words of people and compensate for the limitation of body gestures, what a person or a figure really wants to say. There is also a long history of hands expressing information in art; in fact, the hand was the very first visual representation going all the way back to cave paintings.
These particular hands that you saw will be photographed for an upcoming book project called FORE, where I spell out 44 of my favorite four letter words. No, not words like shit, fuck or piss but words like myth, echo, and time.
Eazel: You deliver your ideas mostly through your three-dimensional sculptures, but you also make two-and-a-half resembling three-dimensional wall sculptures, as well as drawings, paintings, and paper collages in a similar aesthetic. How do you usually perceive objects?
DW: I have always been attracted to objects in general that occupy physical space in our actual world; they have a materiality, a weight, a physical presence. In contrast to drawings and paintings, which are more like an illusion of a thing or a situation, for me, objects always seem more real. However, it doesn’t mean that I don't engage in making 2D works, drawings or paintings. Even my collages have a sort of tactility and objectness.
I am interested in objects because they relate to artifacts. Artifacts were once objects used in everyday life in past cultures and civilizations, and they were more like living mediums that represented part of its owner and user’s life. Now they "live" in museums but exist as a kind of “Memento Mori“ object. I think the artifact objects have always been a major key to understanding culture and the people living in that culture. In the same context, what I aim through my work is to make objects that somehow give insight into and represent the current state of our contemporary world.
Eazel: Can you introduce artworks that you are currently working on?
DW: I have been working on a series of bricolage sculptures and collages. They all navigate the space between figuration and abstraction, materiality and representation, control and surprise, directness and magic.
Derek Weisberg was born in 1983. At age 18, he moved to Oakland, California to pursue his love for ceramics, and art in general, and attended California College of Arts and Crafts. At CCAC he received several awards, graduating with high honors in 2005 with a BFA. Since then, Weisberg has co-owned his own gallery, Boontling Gallery, as well as curated numerous other shows. He has also worked with highly esteemed artists such as Stephen De Staebler, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Manuel Neri, and many others. In addition, Weisberg has maintained a strong and demanding studio practice, exhibiting regionally, nationally, and internationally. Weisberg has participated in over 90 shows in the last 8 years, and there are no signs of slowing down in the future. Weisberg currently lives and works in NY and is faculty at Greenwich House Pottery.
For further information about Derek Weisberg :
Immersive Studio Visit
Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program
(Brooklyn, New York)