in discussion of long outstanding artists in our scene, the list can
be staggering as to who has done what over the course of so many
years. Exhibitions, events, style, galleries, projects, and many
other areas on the list it would make anyone's head spin just to
compile. But if you had to pick one, the artist in highlight today
would certainly be the first name in many minds.
--- Derek Dyer has been a staple of the art scene since the late 90's, continually pushing his creativity and showcasing his work in various forms from painting to sculpture to photography. Not to mention being a featured in several high-profile events, gaining national recognition, helping out charities and causes, and picking up a world record along the way. His latest showing entitled “Earth People” kicks off next Friday at the Sorenson Unity Gallery, and in preparation I got a chance to chat with Derek about his career and works, along with info on his newest exhibition and thoughts on local art.
Gavin: Hey Derek! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Derek: I’m an artist and an advocate, activist and organizer for the arts. I am also very interested and involved in environmental issues. I live in Salt Lake City. I am the Executive Director of the Utah Arts Alliance and I also run two recycling facilities.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some early inspirations?
Derek: My first memory of the concept of “art” was when I was very young maybe five years old and my mom was taking an art class. I wasn’t really sure what that meant but I remember thinking that it was pretty cool. I was about eight or nine years old when I borrowed my moms oil paints (that she probably hadn’t used since that class five years earlier) and did what I thought of as my first real painting. It was a picture of the three crosses on the mountain with a big dramatic lightning storm behind it (I was attending a private Baptist school at the time). I really started getting interested in art at about the age of fifteen. I painted what I would now consider my first serious painting, a large painting of the Cheshire Cat from Alice In Wonderland. Nineteen years later I still have that painting hanging in my front room. It reminds me of where I came from and the feeling of creating art for the first time. I was hooked right away. Other big influences on me were my good friend Scott Alger who got me interested in experimental photography as well as my best friend of nineteen years Angela Brown an awesome photographer in her own right. Angela let me borrow her camera when I first started in photography fifteen or so years ago and that help start me on that path. Obviously I have received so much inspiration from artists throughout history the list is too long to name them all, the short list would be Hieronymus Bosch, Modigliani, Mucha, DaVinci, Escher, Dali, Liechtenstein, and Stella.
Gavin: Did you seek out any education for it was it more hands on for you?
Derek: I think education is invaluable for an artist. Although I don’t believe you necessarily have to get that education at a college but that is a good place to start for many. I graduated from Salt Lake Community College’s Multimedia Design program. I went in this direction because it seemed that the most likely way for an artist to make a living from art would be graphic, web or multimedia design. Most of my real art has been produced through hands on experience, self taught though years of practice, trial and error and experimentation.
Gavin: You've become pretty versatile as an artist. Paintings, sculptures, photography. What made you branch out into different areas?
Derek: For me different inspirations and projects call for different mediums. I have always loved photography but for me photography isn’t about going out and finding something to take pictures of, it is about creating a completely unique scene and image and then taking a picture of it. For instance my Earth People series is photographic work but creating the image that I am to photograph is really more about 95% painting, sculpting and assemblage work on my models. Taking the photograph is the easy part. I love going big and the best way to do that many times is sculptural. I like to mix the mediums as much as I can an example would be the disco ball, it is a fantastic sculptural piece in and of itself but its function is the light art it produces on such a large scale. I also really enjoy creating light and projection art. Sometimes I will do the projection art with a band or performance group and sometimes it is a stand alone installation piece.
Gavin: How was it for you first doing exhibitions around the city and gaining recognition for your work?
Derek: I love getting art out there for people to experience. The best part about getting recognition for your work is that future clients or event producers may hear about it and that will help you be able to get more work out in the future.
Gavin: Is it a hard balance being able to continually produce in all those forms, or does it come more naturally when you have a creative urge?
Derek: The form is definitely determined by the inspiration or project. I think artists should not limit themselves to certain mediums because that is what they feel comfortable and safe with. I only feel excited about a project if I am being challenged by it and know that I will be tested by the process.
Gavin: Delving into your work a bit, what's the process like for you when coming up with a particular piece or series?
Derek: Many times it is like a spark in my mind, I have an idea and know that I have to create it. From there I just have to figure out how to do it. Sometimes that can take years, sometimes minutes.
Gavin: Do things usually go according as you planned them out or is there a lot of experimentation and improv along the way?
Derek: Things never, ever go according to plan. Just like life in general. Planning is very important though as it helps avoid many problems but life is full of so many variables that you just have to be able take them as they come. I always try to remind myself that if something seems like a problem or a mistake to try and see it as a challenge and try and turn it into a positive thing.
Gavin: Of the more well-known pieces, how did the idea come about constructing the World's Largest Disco Ball, and achieving the official world record for it?
Derek: At the time in 2002 I had just finished my Liquid People photographic series, which I thought was a pretty cool series. I received mixed reviews about the pieces, some people loved them and some people would just say they were weird. I wanted at that time to create something that could be universally recognized as cool and a great art piece no matter someone's age or education or cultural leanings. That year an independent movie came out called “Groove” the poster had a guy riding the BART holding a oversized disco ball. It kind of made me laugh and think “that is a big disco ball... I wonder what is the biggest disco ball? ...I wonder if there is a record for the biggest disco ball.” So I went to the book store and picked up the new Guinness Book of World Records and randomly I opened it to the page that happen to have a picture of the current worlds largest disco ball. That seemed to me to be a pretty big omen. At that moment I decided I would build a much bigger disco ball and break the record. I finished the piece in 2003 and it was published in the 2005 Guinness Book of World Records.
Gavin: Over time you've been involved with several projects. Coordinator for the Arts Festival, teacher for the Arts Center, designer for a couple of companies. What made you want to get involved with all these different projects?
Derek: I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given to work with so many great organizations and events. I’m always interested in contributing what I can to the art community. As for being a designer it is always nice to be able to use your skills and creativity in order to pay the bills.
Gavin: You also founded the Utah Arts Alliance. Where did the idea come for that and how was it forming that organization?
Derek: I started working with the city on art events and projects to enliven downtown. I had the idea that to enliven downtown sustainably and create a cultural core we needed to create an art and community center that would be assessable to all. A place for artists, teachers, students and the public to come and not only view art and performances but also a place to learn about art in all its forms. The things that would separated this center from the other venues is that it was a catch all for the arts. This one center would house visual arts galleries, dance studios, performance space, theaters to screen film, poetry readings, artist studio space, classrooms and events areas. Originally the idea for the organization was to create this one center in downtown SLC. After much thought and research it occurred to me that this type of venue and program could be valuable to many communities throughout the state. That is what the Utah Arts Alliance is, a place for the arts and community to connect in all its various forms. We are now seven years old and our Center at 2191 South 300 West is open seven days a week and houses a live music venue, dance studios, performance space, artists studios and classes in everything from music to capoeira to fire dancing. Our Main Street Center houses the UAA Gallery and the UAA Music recording studio Midnight Records. We have served tens of thousands of individuals in one form or another.
Gavin: On top of this you also set up a number of charity fundraiser events. How did you start putting those together, and who are some of the groups you've worked with?
Derek: I’ve been an events promoter and producer for a while and I have always loved to put together a fun event that supports a good cause. Some of the groups I am honored to have been able to work with are Best Friends, Utah Aids Foundation, MS Research, Homeless Youth Resource Center and of course Utah Arts Alliance.
Gavin: Tell us about the show you currently have going on at the Sorenson Unity Gallery.
Derek: The show is Earth People. This show is photographic work in which the subject matter is people that represent different elements of natural earth. The show presents ideas of the connectedness between humans and our environment. The subject is covered in the earthy elements that surround them. Through this process the people become earth people. Although humans are creations of the earth we view ourselves separate from the earth and other living things; we think of animals, plants and our environment as something outside of the human experience when really it is all one, interconnected and symbiotic experience. Seventeen pieces are on display and are for sale. The opening reception is February 26th from 6-9PM and the exhibit runs through April 16th.
Gavin: What was it like for you creating the new Earth People series, and how have people reacted to it?
Derek: It was fun and challenging. All of my models were awesome and very into the project. I typically work with models that approach me about being involved with my projects. The first thing I always tell them is that they will probably be very uncomfortable and will either be very hot or very cold they may have rocks glued to their face and body or be thrown in mud at any given time and they will have a lot of fun. And we do always do have a lot of fun. People have been very receptive of the series, this is one of the more popular series I have ever done. I get a lot of “wow” and “oh, cool” which is really what I am going for in much of my work. I am looking for the wow factor.
Gavin: Let's chat local for a few. What are your thoughts on the Utah art scene, both good and bad?
Derek: We are really lucky to have such a great art scene in Utah. I think the unique cultural dynamic we see here makes for some truly distinctive expressions coming out of Utah. Certain aspects of our society are very repressive for many people and that I think that makes the artists even more expressive and extreme than you might find somewhere else, which is good, at least for the art. The only constructive criticism I could give about the art scene is that I feel it is important for people to try and expand their circles and open themselves up to new experiences and people so to avoid the sense of cliquishness that you sometimes see in the community.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Derek: Yes, people, corporations and the government can always do more to support local artists. I would encourage people to pick up local art to decorate their homes with that. Corporations should look locally when purchasing art for their buildings. Government agencies should always look locally when they can in choosing public art commissions.
Gavin: What's your take on the galleries we have and the work they're currently doing?
Derek: We have some amazing galleries in Salt Lake City. We are really blessed to have the amazing legacies of Phillips Gallery, Art Access Gallery Salt Lake Art Center and the Salt Lake City Arts Council Fine Lane Galleries. We will always see new art galleries spring up from time to time and people should support these galleries where you will usually see the most fresh and edgy work in the city. Unfortunate many galleries in SLC have a short life span. The Derek Dyer Gallery was one of those, lasting 2002-2003 may it rest in peace. The Utah Arts Alliance Gallery on Main Street is a truly unique among SLC galleries because we really strive for diversity, one month we may have western art the next cutting edge computer art created through brain wave sensors. It is important for us to give the public an opportunity to experience a wide range of visual arts. Our Gallery Director Kent Rigby is one of the most truly amazing individuals that has given so much to the arts community and we are really lucky to have him working with us now.
Gavin: What's your opinion on Gallery Stroll as a whole and how its doing today?
Derek: Gallery Stroll is a great event. It is a great opportunity for people to come out and mingle and hopefully experience some great art. For a long time it has seemed that Gallery Stroll was more about the party than the art, which is not necessarily a bad thing as long as some of the people remember to look at the art and hopefully that leads to conversation and something more meaningful than just another party. If people buy the art, well that's even better.
Gavin: From the artistic end, where do you see our scene going over the next few years?
Derek: I think it will just keep on growing and getting better. I am hoping that the city and county will continue to nurture smaller art groups and support the wonderful artists and organizations that have already built so much. If they do, the future for the arts will look even brighter.
Gavin: Looking over your own career, how do you feel being viewed as a leader of the art community?
Derek: I started out throwing shows very young because I could see that people needed more outlets for their work. I’m doing what anyone else could do if they were okay with constantly working with little pay and getting kicked around a lot. But seriously I am happy to be involved in the arts community in any capacity that I can be useful. I am inspired by people like Nancy Boskoff, Anne Cullimore Decker, Ruth Lubbers, Bonnie Phillips and Vicki Bourns that are true leaders of the art community and have done so much to enrich everybody’s lives that live in SLC whether they know it of not.
Gavin: What can we expect from you throughout the rest of year?
Derek: I am working on proposals for public art commissions. I have some really exciting ideas that I would like to see in more permanent settings in the city. I will be working on some new concepts that involve 3D sculpture with 2D image elements and dynamic lighting effects. I will continue to work with some more photography projects that i have in mind as well. The Utah Arts Alliance is forecasted to have a great year and am looking forward to all of the great things in store for us this year.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Derek: The Earth People Opening reception is February 26th from 6-9PM at Sorenson Unity Center Gallery at 1383 South 900 West there will be music and food and its free. The show runs through April 16th. The UAA Gallery Has a great show up right now. J. M. Post - Studies Of Gender In Art History - 127 South Main St. SLC. Free to the public. On March 5th we have two shows at the UAA gallery that no one should miss. have you every wanted to see what your brain waves look like? Come to the show and find out. I would encourage people to visit UtahArts.org to keep up with all of the goings on with the UAA. Join our Facebook.