Full Circle: a conversation with Derek about human expression via improvising with hands and Earth.


I recently linked up with Joshua Kogan, the web extraordinaire, and agile mind, who started Local flux. We had a little chat about a lot of things, Joshua had several interesting questions, which I don’t get asked often. It was a fun conversation. Read my new interview here: and then go peep local flux.


Sculptor Derek Weisberg createsworks that reflect humanist ideology; searching for truth and universal morality, based on the commonality of the human condition. The is aconversation with Derek about human expression via improvising with hands and Earth.

why / how sculpture?

My work is primarily figurative ceramic sculpture. I create works of art that are emotional and psychological self-portraits, which aim to make sense of my life, my experiences, and the times I live. I attempt toachieve an innerness, and create works which are accessible and allow the viewer to have an experience which cannot be easily articulated, but felt. At its core the works reflect humanist ideology; searching for truth and universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition. Much of my work of the past 6 years deals with ideas and themes of death, and afterlife.

I have always worked with my hands, before clay (which I started at age 7) I was taking apart and reassembling my action figures and making newassmeblagedtoys, and before that I was “sculpting” my mashed potatoes. I love the immediacy of clay and sculpture. I love the fact that I am creating an actual object, a thing with dimensions, weight, scale, etc. It exists in the real world and has an actual physical presence. I think making objects, especially handmade one of a kind objects in a digital, mass production, fabrication world is super important, and in a way almost counterculture.

emotional and psychological self portraits? i’m interested. tell me more.

This is totally general and maybe cliché, but the inspiration for my work starts with my life, my experiences and the world around me. I have found emotions to be the most powerful, at times confusing, but ultimately truthful forces in my life. I have always looked and listened to my emotions as my guide through life. So I use my work to try and express these things, and to further make sense of my life. My work is a way for me tobe self-reflective and hopefully therapeutic in some ways. All I really know (and that is even arguable) is my own life, to make work about anything else would seem untrue.


how did this become your basis of artistic expression?

As I experienced things in my life, I felt like I needed to express them, if not for anything else then for myself to try and figure them out – to find an understanding. Often these experiences had to deal with a type of loss, a break up, death, loss of self, etc. My dad said it best once “Your creative process has been a channel for those feelings you hold deepl,y and has become a lasting expression and tribute to your relationship with people in your life.”


what’s your artistic purpose, or goal?

I guess my goals are to not too far from what I am doing now, to be able to make art every day, to sustain myself and important people in my life through my work. As well as be able to sustain an interest, a curiosity, in the world around me and in my art making, and to sustain a strong motivated work ethic and practice. If the world, or anybody for that matter, is moved by my work and it helps them in their own life somehow, that is also a great success to me, and definitely part of my purpose and goals.


about your process of creating a piece, do you envision a piece up-front before you start, or an idea?

I always have at least one sketchbook going, which I keep as a diary – a place to make notes on ideas, a research journal, etc., and I’m always drawing in it. My drawings are rough sketches, often with notations, and they ultimately lead to the sculpture. I like having the drawings as very rough ideas; it keeps me from being a prisoner to them. I then begin the sculpture from one, or a composite of several drawings. Sometimes I work from photograph as well; mostly if I am trying to understand folds in fabric, or if there is a particular physical feature I really like. Also I work in front of a mirror, and am very often my own model, when I need to figure out some kind of anatomical problem or aspect. I build my sculptures mostly as coil built pieces, so they are completely hollow. I work from ground up, and I work very generally at first. Because clay has a weight and mass, I am always fighting gravity, I can only build vertically so high, before I have to let the clay firm up a bit. This can take a day or so, and then I go in and detail the piece adding and subtracting, refining the form to my desired image. If I need to build the piece higher, I repeat those steps. After the sculpting, I often glaze or color the sculpture. I use a lot of washes of underglazes, and mason stains, almost like water color. I then fire the piece. I try to get away with a once fire (firing the piece one time instead of firing, then applying glaze, and then firing again), but often the piece needs additional color or touchups and such and, so I apply more pigment and then will re-fire the piece. I will do this as many times as I need to get to an acceptable result. If I don’t think I can solve the problem with traditional ceramic materials, I will not hesitate to pick up acrylic, oil, spray paint, wax, tar, or whatever is needed to end up at a finish which I am happy with. Timing really varies on scale, the clay needs drying time, but I would say a piece that is about 24″ tall may take me a couple weeks from start to finish.


you moved from oakland to brooklyn — how important is your environment to your creative vision?

I would like to say my environment is irrelevant, and that I could make my work anywhere, but I do love living in cities. There is an amazing energy in cities, and they have so much to offer culturally and socially. Oakland was a wonderful place to live, especially when I was there; there was so much youthful excited energy there – a lot of young creative people who wanted to start things, places, programs, etc. It was great. We really felt like we were building something, and it was fun and exciting. And NY is full of energy. It is established, and has been charged for a while, but it feels like it is always fresh, always changing. I grew up close to San Francisco and spent most of my young adulthood going into the SF, Oakland and Berkeley area, so I have always been attracted to cities. I use found wood, and other found materials from the streets and factories and such, and incorporate that into my work, and the presentation of it. Often my figures are displayed with this found material in a kind of environment that suggests a city or urban landscape. So I guess my environment is pretty integral to my work.

what are your thoughts regarding art and progressive change?

I spoke a bit on this earlier, but I put a real emphasis and importance on the hand made, non manufactured, etc. The act of experiencing something that was made by hand with care, love, and consideration, and attaining that thing locally is huge! Its funny, the world moves so fast; the internet has given us the fastest modes of communication, and the most amount of information available ever. Technologically we can do incredible, amazing, unbelievable feats, and here I am making sculptures with my hands, out of clay, out of mud, out of earth, the most primordial thing. So for me, I would say that progressive change would come in a form of reversion to the world we know in some ways. We live in a spiritual draught, where human relationships are dictated through text, emotions are expressed though silly little face icons, and we are entertained through mindless “reality” trash. I want my work to speak to, and about humanity, and human interactions! Let’s get back to real human relationships, and feelings of empathy, compassion, love, etc. I think if we can get in touch with our humanity, feelings, and the individuals in our lives a little more, and slow down, and be considerate, we won’t be doing so many ridiculous, fucked up things (war, financial greed, corporate take-over at the cost of individuals and communities, stealing of people’s homes, environmental destruction, etc.).

See the original posting on Local Flux here: http://localflux.net/PostView.aspx?id=86


Thanks for taking the time to read.