Sculptor Derek Weisberg, Takes Manhattan, And All Surrounding Boroughs

written by Amy Dufault

Moving from one place to another you take certain bits of comfort with you. For sculptor Derek Weisberg, the move from Oakland, California to Brooklyn, New York was all about retaining the thread of street culture from one city to the next — some underlying pulse to connect his cities and help bridge the gap of newness.

In a place as vast and confrontational as New York City, the artist says he’s wedging his way in and channeling street artists like Barry McGee, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, and Os Gemeos, role models who have made cities their own as well.

Derek Weisberg interview WILD mag arts

Author and journalist Tom Wolfe once said of New York City: “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”

You feel this with Weisberg. Tracking him for any one night through Manhattan, you’d see an aggressive collector of images — his phone grabbing artistic snapshots from the sides of buildings, apartment lobbies, curiousity shops and in front of stages at rap concerts.

Social mobility? Internet accessibility? Do we ever leave home with how connected we can always be? Weisberg tells me “accessibility is the overarching theme and zeitgeist of our time, comparable to nothing else the art world has ever seen or been witness to on such a linked level.”

And here we are.

The WILD caught up with Weisberg recently to talk about all the things artists hate to talk about including inspiration and success. We like what he had to say.

Derek Weisberg interview WILD mag arts

You moved to New York City a year ago from Oakland, California, how has the city affected your work?
I grew up in the Bay Area, and although I have traveled a fair amount, I never really called anywhere outside the Bay home.  When you live somewhere new, everything changes. The differences in lifestyle between Oakland and New York are vast. New York constantly forces one to problem solve; the city and existence is more physical, you constantly have to push yourself.  I feel like this has crossed over into my work, to continually challenge myself and create new problems to solve. I feel as an artist this is something I try to do regardless of where I am, but I feel it more strongly in New York.

Tell me about how hip hop and rap culture from both coasts influence your work.
Hip hop and the hip hop culture has been in my life for almost as long as I’ve been making things in clay. I remember listening to songs like  ”Nuthin but a G thang” and “It Was a Good Day” when I was 9. I have been listening to rap music and participating in the culture ever since.  When I was younger, when the east coast/west coast feud was happening, one had to kind of pick a side, but that’s long over and now I listen to hip hop from all coasts, every niche and anywhere, as long as its good.

In college my work was about commenting on hip hop; I would make figures that were characterizations of MC’s or graffiti writers or DJ’s. I was 18 then. Shortly after that my work changed, I was experiencing life in new ways, it was becoming more complicated; I realized I needed to make work to try and make sense of my life. My work became self-reflections, and an activity to better understand my feelings and the world around me. However, in this switch, I maintained that style and energy of hip hop, that was the aesthetic, while the content became about trying to understand life.

A recurring, powerful theme in your work is hands. You use them to show meditation and prayer but also as call signs. Tell me why you pull them in so much to speak to the viewer.

Hands are a very important element of my work. Since most of my work is about conveying human emotion and psychology, hands and faces often convey these ideas best or most clearly. You can completely change the emotion of a figure by the gesture of the hand. It is true I am also trying to express a kind of spirituality through figuration and the use of hands has many connections to images and ideas of Jesus giving blessings, Buddhist Mudras, the Hamsa (Arabic) or Hamesh (Hebrew) hand as a magical protectorate.

Hands not only have religious and spiritual relevance but also a long standing tradition in art history, going all the way back to the silhouetted hand groupings of the cave paintings, Michaelangelo’s Creation of Man in the Sistine chapel, to the totally expressive hands of Egon Scheile. And of course hands are used in their own form of language; sign language and gang hand signs and stacking are examples.

When I use hands in my work I am thinking about and referencing all of these things. And of course one of my favorite lines in a movie: Great Expectations, where De Niro says: “People always tell you that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Bullshit it’s your hands.”

Derek Weisberg interview WILD mag arts

What books are you reading right now that are influencing you?
I’m reading a lot of Herman Hesse right now, currently Narcissus and Goldmund. I am also working, slowly, through the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and the cataloge for the Ferdinand Hodler exhibit, Views to Infinity, which just ended at the Neue Gallerie.  I also just finished The Exodus, by Leon Uris.

What does being a “successful” artist mean to you?
Making the best work possible, continually pushing myself and staying interested and curious in the studio. Making work that has a profound and lasting dialogue and relationship with the viewer, creating a deeply moving experience.

A few sales don’t hurt either.


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Artist A Day

Derek Weisberg
‘How the fuckwe lost our way when the path was so well lit’, Cone 10 Porcelain
Derek Weisberg
‘We’ve come too far to let the sunshine slip behind the skyline’, Cone 10 Porcelain
About Derek:
Derek Weisberg earned a BFA in ceramics from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, CA.

Derek explains his work by saying, “I create works of art that are emotional and psychological self-portraits. Through my work I aim to make sense of my life, my experiences, and the times I live. I do not wish to represent like a photo, instead to achieve an innerness.My goal is to create images, which are accessible and allow the viewer to have an experience which can not be easily articulated, but felt. Simultaneously igniting contemplation, reflection and a lasting relationship with the work. I attempt to express basic human qualities, which are universal and timeless. At its core the works reflect humanist ideology; searching for truth and universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition. Through thought, feelings become knowledge. To know ones feelings is to know ones self especially through experiencing feelings which are uncomfortable and unfamiliar: pain, melancholy, etc.”

Follow Derek
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New Feature on EcoSalon!!!


by  on August 23, 2012 in NEWS & CULTURE SHELTER

COLUMN“With clay there is no separation between the artist and the material.” -Derek Weisberg

Derek Weisberg is a sculptor who uses clay to create works of art that are emotional and psychological self-portraits. When his mother passed away, Weisberg began to include themes of death, afterlife, spirituality and the metaphysical into his work.

He says:

In traditional Jewish thought, the voyage of the soul is dependent upon the actions of the ones who are living.

It would seem his actions explore experiences which cannot be easily articulated, but are universally felt. His stylization of the figure brings aspects of the human condition to his viewers, utilizing symbols like tattoos and pop culture in his version of canopic jars.

The idea iteself comes from ancient Egyptian burial practices and beliefs about the afterlife. Weisberg takes this ancient ritual and brings it into the present by replacing the gods with portraits of rappers who have passed away. The series deals with themes of life, death, and the afterlife. It is also about a culture he has been involved in his whole life.

Weisberg says:

Simultaneously igniting contemplation, reflection and a lasting relationship with the work, I attempt to express basic human qualities, which are universal and timeless.

Weisberg’s searching for truth through our universal morality may sting with the discomfort of pain and melancholy, yet at the same time, his renderings bring other mediums to the clay.

He explains:

To experience death is to experience the most unique situation in life; it is simultaneously completely familiar and alien, definitive and confusing, guaranteed and mysterious. This work is a combination of all those things and has been a way to help me navigate through and reconcile with the loss of my mother.

Inspiration from Derek Weisberg’s Studio

Eco, trends, art, creativity and how they tumble through social media to shape culture fascinate EcoSalon columnist Dominique Pacheco. Her trends blog, mixingreality, speaks to these topics daily, and here at EcoSalon, she takes a weekly look at the intersection of eco and art. We call it heARTbeat.


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Featured Artist on LOCAL GHOST

Local Ghost recently posted a quick mention on my work,  its really nice when the viewer “gets” it.  I love the quick write up.  Peep it:


July 30, 2012 · by  · in Art

Derek is the first ceramic artist we’ve featured on Local Ghosts and I’m glad that medium is getting such a strong start on the site. His work walks right up to the uncanny valley, then kind of wantonly dances in it, while having some sort of crazy fever dream. It’s depressing and entertaining, all the while maintaining an eerie atmosphere that reminds me of every traumatizing memory I’ve had or am going to have. It be unsettling if it wasn’t so beautiful to look at. I don’t know whether to cringe or stare at it. So I keep staring and hope for more to come my way. You should absolutely check out more of his work on his website. He’s a Brooklyn artist who we’re looking into working with more. I personally can’t wait to see what else he comes up with.

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