D Derek Da Silva’s work brings to mind the search within us all for a common bond. His investigation of social roles challenges existing habits of thought and searches for a new visual language. Through the use of metaphorical imagery, he questions the diversity of social relationships and subtly investigates their lifespan through his work. Is there a common thread in why some are successful and others not? His study harnesses the gradient between black and white with the sparing use of color to reinforce his explorations of the intimate, interpersonal, and intersectional aspects of the base nature of life. His work invites alternative perspectives and maybe finding order in places that seem elusive, contradictory, or diverse.
Derek’s creative process continually reaches towards his finest work and deeper into the mastery of the chosen materials and subject matter. His practice historically roots itself through a deep understanding of how previous generations used similar materials, techniques, and concepts without feeling derivative. The paintings and works on paper reflect countless hours of investigation. Derek joins the cadre of artists like Joan Miró and Ellsworth Kelly who successfully developed visual languages of their own based on unique forms and the strategic employment of color. Like Miró, the depicted shapes are biomorphic, zoomorphic, and anthropomorphic delicately balancing being unfamiliar and engaging yet sensual. Simultaneously they contain semblances of hand-drawn letterforms suggesting the forms are part of a larger order as of yet still undefined.
He attended Parsons School of Design, American Conservatory Theatre for Dramatic Arts, and Providence College. His studio practice is both in Manhattan and on the Connecticut shoreline. He exhibits in juried shows and was awarded 1st place for Abstract Art at the New York City Washington Square Art Exhibit. His artwork is in many private residences, corporate locations, galleries, and museums in the U.S. and Europe.
He was selected in the International Contemporary Artist Book, Volume XI, and is featured in Vellum Magazine, Issue 17 as an emerging New York City artist.
Hey Derek! While we were arranging this interview, you moved into a new studio and it looks awesome. What is a day of working like in your studio? Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
D Derek: Hi Lisa! I’m happy you like my space. As you know, having a studio is a blessing. Navigating the world as an artist takes work and sometimes there’s no road map. There are ups and downs. Sometimes expectations are not met but sometimes luck comes your way. To have a dedicated space for art practice is a gift and I am grateful.
I had a vision for the studio and put quite a bit of effort into it. My first prerequisite is to be part of an art community. Having other artisans around me keeps me inspired, accountable and motivated. My other goal is to create a space that lends itself to experimentation, exploration, and teaching me at the same time.
As with many artists, we have to juggle writing, staying informed, and administrative with creative time. Previously, I did my deskwork in the morning and painted in the afternoon. But my creative rituals have changed because of Covid. We live in a new reality. Our world as we have known it has long disappeared into memory. I think we are all coming to terms with a new place we have found ourselves in. And as of result, I’m approaching my life and art practice in a new way today. I get up early, journal, meditate and head to the studio first thing in the morning. In essence, I am setting up a foundation for the day and then… being and doing what I love… creating, finding magic, and building stories.
Could you walk us through your process? How much planning do you do before you jump into a painting? If you do, what are you trying to solve at each stage of it?
D Derek: I’ve studied and experimented with many disciplines of art including printmaking, which requires significant structure and process. That way of thinking has carried into my painting practice as well. But I also allow space for the unknown and the unexpected. My goal is to continue to grow and expand as an artist. And to do that, I need to be open to change.
My current series is very expressive and unconsciously driven. I made hundreds of drawings loosely. From there, the collection was edited down until a story was uncovered. It’s like digging into the subconscious. Each study is contemplated over time and refined until its “Truth” can be revealed. From there the narrative comes together. And then I think about color, depth, and movement for each piece.
My next project will have the reverse process. I will create a storyboard of drawings and narratives that have been brewing in my mind for the past several months. At that point detailed drawings, studies, and paintings will follow. Again… my thinking is if I shake up my routines and new discoveries can be found.
Do you ever experience creative blocks? And if yes, how do you overcome it?
D Derek: Art making is a passion for me. It’s easy to work every day in some way. But I try to have a schedule that’s congruent with the rest of the world, painting during the workweek, and having some downtime. As artists, we are windows to the world. I feel it’s important to be socially engaged, experience life to its fullest, and be civically minded. This also creates balance in my life and makes me more eager to get back into the studio.
During moments of disconnect with my work, I investigate and ask myself why. Am I burnt out? Am I aligned with my practice? Sometimes it’s the apprehension of taking a creative risk. In that case, I remind myself to be true to myself. And sometimes it means to pause, surrender and really examine the project.
Prior to the pandemic, I had a routine of doing gallery openings and museum exhibitions every week. Seeing a well-curated show, flawless art or thought-provoking work is a big motivator for me. It can also be very humbling. Seeing other artist’s work inspires me to continue my creative journey.
Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?
D Derek: Gerhard Richter says art is the highest form of hope. I agree with him. Art can offer solace and comfort to humanity.
I’ve always been interested in patterns and how things relate to each other. Whether it’s between people, in a natural ecosystem, or the metaphysical world. My work is a search for a common bond between all that is. And if we can find that shared connection, there is no need for labels.
Our world has been confronted with a movement for a lack of tolerance of plurality and multiplicity. I’d like to challenge these existing habits of thought and explore new ways of communication, which allows for a freer expression.
It’s my sense that divergent beliefs, cultures, and gender fluidity actually support a communal environment. Each piece I create has a personal story I think most people can identify with. Dream Weaving, a work on paper, symbolizes strands of individual fabric. It’s a metaphor about how different cultures in our society can intertwine into a beautiful tapestry. It is to weave a dream that we all live in unity.
My artistic investigation, as with many artists, is constantly evolving and going deeper. My work right now invites alternative perspectives and attempts to find balance in places that seem contradictory or diverse. My hope is to make more discoveries about life through alternative perspectives and raise questions about the ways with which we define borders.
Who are a few artists/people that really inspire you right now, and why?
D Derek: Inka Essenhigh (@inkaessenhigh) for her mastery and skill in painting. She blends abstraction with figuration. Her work is so imaginative. It’s like a feast of surrealism in a dreamland. You have to experience her work in person. It’s pure magic.
Carrie Moyer (@carrie.moyer.studio) is a force to be reckoned with. She weaves a diversity of elements in her work, which come together so cohesively. She takes abstraction to a whole new level.
I admire the fearlessness of Tracey Emin’s work. She’s a storyteller. Her work can be deeply personal and expressed in imaginative ways. If you have a chance, go online and see “The Loneliness of the Soul” exhibit, which appears alongside Edvard Munch. Brilliant.
What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
D Derek: Patience, I am not good at it. There is so much I want to do creatively. I’m good at conceptualizing and deciding what comes next. My challenge sometimes is exactly how it is to be executed. That doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and investigation.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned during the pandemic is to be patient and the answers will come. I have to remind myself that some things must have their own time to develop. That takes a lot of trusts in yourself and in life.
What is the most recent piece you’ve enjoyed working on, and why?
D Derek: I was working on a large canvas oil painting titled “Ruler of my world” just prior to the pandemic. I evaluated my artistic process and decided to put my oils aside for the time being and worked with pastels and watercolors. I wanted to work with mediums and substrates that could give me more immediate and expressive results.
Returning to this painting months later seemed strange. This painting seemed foreign to me. I think we are all different since Covid and I’m no exception. As I began working on it, a new relationship was formed. I discovered new things in this work that wouldn‘t have been found months earlier.
Initially, this painting spoke about the delicate ecosystems we have on this planet, whether it’s human, animal, or plant life. How things are planted into the ground and things come to life. But now it goes deeper for me. This painting expresses lessons I’ve learned during the lockdown. It’s about we are creators of our own lives by the choices we make. That in fact, we are all rulers of our own worlds.
Share some interesting facts about your art with us.
D Derek: My art is influenced by many experiences in my life. I’ve studied many eastern philosophies including Taoism, Buddhism, I Ching, and Feng Shui. It’s helped me better appreciate the true nature of the world.
My dramatic arts background established a foundation for understanding the human condition, which in turn influences my artistic investigation.
I paint a combination of wet on wet and waiting for drying times between layers. Each painting may take several months.
Josef Albers is a hero of mine and I am fixated on theory and the application of color. But I decided to work in monochromatic with this current series. My focus is more on line, movement and narrative. It was not planned. I followed my instincts.
What’s next on the horizon for Derek?
D Derek: These next several months are about production. I finishing up some monochromatic pieces and have plans to slowly return to color. My objective is to work on a new series of large canvas oil paintings. The series will be based on how the pandemic has shifted my life in unusual and unexpected ways. I wouldn’t have believed it if it didn’t happen to me. There are many lessons I am learning and still need to explore. I think it’s a story many of us can identify with.