Dig In Magazine interviews ceramic artist, Derek Weisberg regarding human life and the emotions that inspire him to create captivating life-like sculptures. When asked what inspires his artwork, Weisberg states: “Inspiration comes from emotions and experiences and the way we process them. Human relationships: relationships to ourselves, other people, our surroundings, and environments. I am inspired by life and death. I am inspired by the sky, and the sidewalk concrete. Homeless and hipsters, dysfunction and beauty, mighty oaks and dying flowers. Art history, and contemporary world issues. Inspiration comes from everywhere and everything. It comes from living today, and from having experiences, and relationships with people and my world. Simultaneously my work comes from 35,000 years of human visual expression.” Weisberg, a San Francisco Bay Area native, has accepted a residency and job at a 100 year old institution in Greenwich Village, called Greenwich House Pottery. He now works and resides in New York. [Interview posted on August 26, 2011]
Dig In Magazine: Are you a native of Oakland?
Derek Weisberg:I am a CA, Bay Area, native, but not an Oakland, native. I have lived here for 10 years, and have been very involved in the art community, and call this place home, and basically think it is the center of the universe.
DIM: Where is your studio?
DW:Currently (8/3/11) my studio is in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland. 43rd and Telegraph.
DIM: Where were you trained in sculpture?
DW:I started making sculpture as a kid, seriously young, I was always making objects, new toys, assemblage type things. At age 7 I took my first clay class and from age 7 to 18 I worked at an artist, Katrina Van Male’s, studio, she taught technical skills at the beginning , but mostly I was going to her studio, every Friday after school and just making art. After high school, I attended California College of Arts and Crafts, where I received my BFA in ceramics in 2005.
DIM: When did you first begin your life as an artist?
DW:As soon as I could hold something in my hand.
DIM: Who or what inspired you to get into art and sculpture more specifically?
DW:My parents, they were/are incredibly supportive. They saw how much I loved making things, and how captivated and focused I was at such an early age; I would sculpt mash potatoes and destroy my old action figures to create new ones, I was always building something. So they enrolled me in my first clay class at age 7. I guess they thought it would be something I would like, and they were 100 percent correct. I fell in love with the material and process then, and haven’t put it down since.
DIM: What is it about sculpture that attracted you to this form of art?
DW:I love the directness of clay. It is one material where there is no separation between maker and material. There doesn’t have to be a pen or pencil, paint brush or chisel, if I want I can directly interact with the material, it is so responsive, intimate, and I love that tactile quality. Also clay is so flexible and has so many possibilities and processes, it can be added to, subtracted, pushed, pulled, pounded, stretched, or carved, it can be a totally hard solid material, or liquid. I love the physicality of the material. I also love that it exists in real space. It is an actual object with a shape and weight and scale. I love that it is not an illusion. There are so many reasons.
DIM: How would you describe your artistic style?
DW:Figurative sculpture, made primarily of ceramic. It is a stylized figuration with the emphasis on human emotion and the human spirit and condition.
DIM: Your sculptures seem to express human emotion on a deep level, what are you thinking about and channeling as you mold a piece of clay?
DIM: What in life inspires your art?
DW:Inspiration comes from emotions and experiences and the way we process them. Human relationships: relationships to ourselves, other people, our surroundings, and environments. I am inspired by life and death. I am inspired by the sky, and the sidewalk concrete. Homeless and hipsters, dysfunction and beauty, mighty oaks and dying flowers. Art history, and contemporary world issues. Inspiration comes from everywhere and everything. It comes from living today, and from having experiences, and relationships with people and my world. Simultaneously my work comes from 35,000 years of human visual expression.
DIM: What are you trying to communicate through your sculptures?
DW:I am trying to communicate what it means to be human, and how we exist in this world. Moments of humanity frozen in stone. I attempt, to communicate ideas, which are very simple and general but complicated, reflective and moving at the same time. It is work that causes you to slow down, to reflect, and to feel, hopefully about your own life. My work is something coming from your gut, it is something to be felt! These are things that I think are hard for people to do, or at least things that don’t happen as often as maybe they should, in a world of high speed everything and instant information, visual clutter, and spiritual drought.
DIM: How do you come up with the ideas for your art pieces?
DW:I don’t think I can actually pinpoint where ideas come from. My work comes from living life. There is no separation between life and art for me. I can be inspired and get an idea from looking through art history books, or from riding my bike down the street and seeing a moment’s interaction. I can see a color scheme in the sky or a gesture and form for a figure at a store. Ideas are everywhere.
DIM: Who are some of your favorite artists that have influenced you to do what you do?
DW:It is a huge list, I love art history. A few real quick: Stephen De Staebler, Egon Schiele, Alberto Giacometti, Caravaggio, Bernini, Van Gogh, Tilman Riemenschneider, Leonard Baskin, Rogier Van Der Weyden, Early Picasso, Egyptian art, Gothic sculpture, Hans Memling, Cy Twombly, Franz Messerschmidt. The list can go on and on.
DIM: Can you name a few art exhibitions that you have been involved with?
DW:I have participated in over 80 exhibitions since graduating CCAC in 2005. I have shown in the bay area, and all over California, across the country and internationally. It is hard to narrow down a few. I guess highlights, could be: 2 solos at Anno Domini Gallery in San Jose: links are here and here. A show at the Di Rosa Preserve, a 2 person show at Space 1026 in Philly,a solo called Olam Haba at Rowan Morrison gallery,a searchlight featured artist at the Baltimore American Craft Council show, Recently a show at View Gallery in Bristol England.
DIM: What magazines have you been featured in?
DW:I have been featured in Juxtapoz, David Choe wrote a short piece on my work. I have been featured in a ceramics magazine, called Ceramics Monthly, BLISSS magazine, Art Ltd. Magazine, Artillery magazine, I think that’s it, as of now.
DIM: According to a recent Huffington Post article, Oakland has been named as one of the “most walkable cities in the nation,” what is your involvement with the Oakland Art Murmur (a once a month art walk in which numerous art galleries open their doors to the Oakland community)? I hear that you were there in the beginning when it all started.
DW:Yeah, actually, I have been very involved in the Oakland art scene and community for a long time now. In 2005 I opened a gallery with my friend Mike Simpson, called BOONTLING Gallery. We ran the gallery from 2005 to 2007, and had a great run, we showed some really excellent artists, and put on some really fun and interesting shows. In 2006 Mike and I helped start the Oakland Art Murmur. We sent out the initial email to the 6 or so galleries in the area at the time and proposed an art walk of sorts for Oakland. We had no idea when we started it, that it would turn in to what it has become: I think over 20 galleries, all kinds of food vendors, musical performances on the street. It is really great, I am super proud of Oakland and the Art Murmur, it has turned in to an incredible monthly event.
DIM: On a more technical level, how long does a piece take from start to finish?
DW:Time really depends on scale. It is hard to say with clay, because I work vertically for the most part, and so I am constantly fighting gravity. I have to sculpt then wait, for the clay to firm up, sculpt and wait, on and on. Then I have to let the piece sit and dry out for about a week. Then I fire the piece, that takes 3 days, then glaze it and fire it again. And if the glaze doesn’t come out exactly how I want it, I have to reglaze and refire. So from start to finish, maybe a month for a piece that is lets say about half life size. It is really hard to calculate time. But when I am sculpting I work fast, and focused and can sculpt a piece of that size in a matter of days.
DIM: What are your plans for the future in terms of your art career and beyond?
DW:I am actually moving to New York in 4 days. I was selected for a residency and job at a 100 year old institution in Greenwich Village, called Greenwich House Pottery. I will be given a free studio, free materials, a monthly firing stipend and a part time paid job. It is an opportunity I can not pass up. And I have actually wanted to live in NY for a long time now, life just never lined up that way to really allow the move, but now it seems like so many cards are falling into place, I am following this long time desire. Also in 2012, I have a bunch of other plans, a couple other residencies, several shows, and a lot of art making.
DIM: Where can people find your work?
DW:They can see my work online at my website:www.DerekWeisberg.com Also you can see it in person and online at at: Anno Domini Gallery, San Jose, CA Thinkspace Gallery, Culver City LA, CA London Miles Gallery, London England View Gallery, Bristol England
This article orignally published by Cindy Marman for Dig In magazine. http://www.diginmag.com/derekweisberg.php