Meet Derek Wilson. A ceramicist who have garnered acclaim internationally for his diverse and contemporary approach to ceramics, both sculptural and functional objects that are as at home in your dining room as they are in a gallery. We spoke to Derek about the appeal of Belfast, exhibiting around the world, and the challenges of lockdown... all while caring for a newborn.
Tell us a bit about how you got into the world of ceramics?
My introduction to clay as a material was during foundation studies at Bournemouth & Poole College of Art. Originally, I was interested in design led disciplines but was encouraged by a tutor to explore ceramics, through this I became curious in its diversity and the vastness of possibilities. She encouraged me to smash things and reassemble parts, which led me to explore the sculptural aspects of ceramics. Having continued with a Fine & Applied Arts degree at the Belfast School of Art, I concentrated on making sculptural works by combining other materials and processes such as metal with ceramics. From time to time I would struggle to stay focused within the discipline and often considered changing to the sculpture department. But with hindsight there is so much to learn about Ceramics and the degree gave me a strong basis and understanding of the wide range of approaches to making objects in clay and an in depth understanding and appreciation for materials.
You walk the line between art and functional product - how would you define your work?
The definitions and boundaries of categorising my practice are something I have struggled with in the past. The balance of functional and sculptural is a result of wanting to develop a breadth of skills as a ceramicist. After graduation, this led me to training as a potter which gave me the opportunity to learn traditional production techniques and gain a greater understanding of running a studio. I would then return to University to focus on my Masters and once again concentrated on sculptural works. It was an interesting time as I felt I now had the skills to execute my ideas. After my Masters I set up a studio producing a small range of functional tableware—mainly in order to sustain my business and to allow time to continue and focus on more object based sculptural pieces. For me the balance between producing small runs of functional and more sculptural objects has been important to the development of my creative practice and elements from each tend to influence one another.
Where do you take inspiration from when creating a collection, or singular piece of work?
There tends to be a huge creative journey when producing pieces and I tend to work in a series. Generally the work evolves from the previous and similar idiosyncrasies appear throughout the body of work through out the production. Overall I tend to be inspired by a lot of art movements such as Russian and British Constructivism, the Bauhaus, De Stijl, Minimalism and Modernism. I have always been drawn to painters such as Ben Nicholson, Victor Passmore, Amedee Ozenfant to name a few, as well as more contemporary artists such Imi Knoebel, Natalie Du Pasquier and Richard Gorman.
I have always held a strong interest in modernist architectural movements--in particular Brutalism—and furniture and the history of applied arts have also played a key role in informing my aesthetic. Instinctively some of these references tend to manifest themselves within the work. Ideas also evolve from process and material experimentation and it is important for me to allow time to play and experiment with new ways of producing.
Of all the places you have exhibited, what have been some of the most memorable and why?
One of the most memorable was being invited to exhibit at the Curators Cube in Tokyo which gave me the opportunity to visit and travel around Japan, a country and culture I have always greatly admired and been influenced by throughout my creative practice.
Prior to this would have been having a solo exhibition at Flow Gallery in London, a gallery that I have long admired and focuses on artists that work in different disciplines. It is thoughtfully curated and hosts an intimate space that has the effect of feeling like a collectors space and is a gallery that I am delighted to be represented by.
Another recent exhibition was dis/rupt at Hauser & Wirth’s MAKE Gallery in Somerset. This was a collection of work shown alongside the glass artist Jochen Holtz. The dialogue the gallery created between both of our practices was very interesting.
You are based in Belfast with a reach far beyond - what appeals to you about Belfast?
The familiarity and sense of home would be the most relevant. As well as seeing it dramatically change over a period of time with the city having an ever growing more diverse and interesting creative and cultural scene. Also the accessibility to different and dramatic landscapes is quite unique. And we would often visit areas such as the Mournes and the Antrim coast.
2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, particularly the creative industries - have you learned any lessons through it all?
Although it has been a tough year one of the benefits for me was having more time with family and also learning to live at a slower pace. I think in general it has been a chance for everyone to reflect on what’s truly important to them. Overall I do feel that people are gaining more of an interest in the creative industries and with the slower pace of life are seeking objects that have a greater depth and value in their production.
What are you listening to or reading?
With a twelve week old baby I am currently struggling to find time to read but recent books include In Praise of Shadows by Tanizaki and Josef Albers: To Open Eyes. Music wise I enjoy listening to Tom Ravenscroft in the studio as well as some podcasts such as Grant Gibsons - Material Matters.
And finally, what can we look forward to from you in the future?
At the moment my interests are more focused on the sculptural works, such as the constructed wall pieces, having recently began to develop them into much more 3 dimensional forms. They are incredibly slow and challenging to produce but I am looking forward to experimenting with scale, colour and new surfaces. I am also looking forward to focussing on a new body of work that will be exhibiting in Tokyo at the IDEE gallery in 2021, a wonderful space designed by Naoto Fukasawa.
Thank you, Derek, for sitting down to talk to us. To see more of Derek Wilson's work, visit his website - derekwilsonceramics.com.