Artist of the Week: Derrick Piens

Derrick Piens was born in 1978 in Chatham, ON, and he received his MFA from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX) in 2007, and BFA from Nova Scotia College of Art & Design University in 2005. He has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions across Canada and the United States, including: When Things Collide (University of Waterloo Art Gallery), Sentinels (Dallas Contemporary), trans/FORM: Matter as Subject > New Perspectives (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto), Summertime In Paris (Parisian Laundry, Montréal), Skipping Stones (General Hardware Contemporary, Toronto). His sculptures are included in numerous private collections in the UK, New York, Montréal and Toronto as well as the permanent collections of Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX), the Claridge Collection (Montréal, QC) and the University of Waterloo Art Gallery (Waterloo, ON).

Derrick_Piens Photo by Zev Farber

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I am a sculptor based in Toronto. I received a BFA from NSCAD (Halifax, Canada) in 2005 and an MFA from Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX) in 2007.

How has living in Toronto affected your art practice? I’ve developed a strong appreciation for graffiti. Some of those artists are super talented and I like seeing the same tags in different areas of the city. The energy of the city inevitably filters its way into the work.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? I’ve recently been interested in nature, geology and the universe at large, along with the work of many other artists. I also enjoy researching and listening to a wide range of musicians.

Yellow Over Blue In Formation, 2013

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? A recent project of mine is Public Collide, I guess you might refer to it as a public intervention. My studio has been getting more and more cramped as time goes on, so I decided to get rid of my largest piece, When Things Collide, 2011. I placed it along the West Toronto Rail Path and over the course of two and a half months people pushed it over multiple times, while others were fixed to set it back up (and it wasn’t light). Soon it was covered with graffiti, stickers, tags, rants on art and professions of love. The piece has since been destroyed, but I did manage to salvage a few key remnants.

Upcoming exhibitions include my inaugural solo exhibition, Dig Deep Bliss Darkness, at General Hardware Contemporary (Toronto), and a two-person exhibition, Three Step Snare, with my partner Jaime Angelopoulos, at Union Gallery (Kingston, ON). Both are set to open mid-September.

What artists are you interested in right now? Some artists that I am currently interested in are Franz West, Richard Tuttle, Louise Bourgeois, David Altmejd and David Armstrong Six.

The Resist, 2014

Tell us about your work process and how it develops. I work on about a dozen pieces at a time, so the process for each piece is generally pretty long and drawn out. Projects can linger in the studio for years before they are finished, rarely do I ever throw things out. Typically, I do a lot of building and deconstructing before a piece is finally resolved; projects are most often fragmented before they are completed as finished forms. I use a lot of bright colors, usually spray paint, but I also use bright pigments mixed with plaster and wax crayons for surfacing. The vibrancy of these colors give the work a sense of vitality and energy.

What do you want a viewer to walk away with after seeing your work? It is my hope that the viewer walks away with a sense of excitement, wonder, or intrigue. The work is abstract, so it is open to interpretation, creating a unique experience for each individual. I consider titles to be an important aspect of my work because they create the framework within which each piece should be considered. Titles can be poetic or humorous.

Shouded, 2014

What’s your absolute favorite place in the city/the world to be? My favorite place in the world to be is in nature, near water, on a warm sunny day.

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? The most positive and enthusiastic responses to my work have been from children and the worst reactions, in general, have been from the so-called “non-art” public. Unlike most adults, children don’t approach contemporary art with preconceived notions that they automatically don’t “understand” it. Children also say some of the most profound things! They naturally think more freely, because they aren’t limited by what they think they know.

Gravity Pull, 2014

What are you reading right now? The book I am currently reading is Hyperspace, by Michio Kaku. I’ve been working on it for a few years now, but I’m only on Chapter 5? It’s pretty good.