Oak City Hustle
Artist You Should Know: Derek Toomes

Artist You Should Know: Derek Toomes

There isn’t a nicer guy in the Raleigh arts scene (or anyone who sports a more recognizable beard) than Derek Toomes. The only thing more admirable than his company is his artwork. Derek’s brooding, explorative aethetic grips you in an instant and holds your attention like a compelling conversation. We hung out with Derek in his studio at the Bonded Llama and asked him a few questions about his life as an artist:

Can you tell us a little about your creative process from inspiration, planning, execution to finish?
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“I find a lot of inspiration from my long-standing interest in graffiti, skateboarding, punk rock, and the cultures that go along with those scenes. I’m also really drawn to investigating the history of my parents’ generation and how my generation perceives it. It was an era that was really pushing boundaries, and I’m especially interested in its development of socialism and technology. As a result of this interest in mid-twentieth-century culture, I’ve most recently been creating works from found imagery to explore how we visualize and distort an idea or recollection of the past.

Once I’ve compiled a selection of related found images to choose from, I start with an idea and look for something that speaks to that concept. At this point, it becomes a matter of problem solving: this is what I want, this is what I have, now let’s make it work visually and conceptually. I then begin to form a composition of layered images, colors, shapes, and text. Text has become an important part of my work for a number of different reasons. Though text usually speaks to the era and idea of my work, I like to use text as more of a formal element rather than a dictated message; it’s meant to prompt ideas and add aesthetic appeal instead of fully defining the work. I also obscure text by utilizing different languages and unexpectedly cutting and blending words.”

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What time of the day do you feel most creative?

“I’m at my most productive and creative from sunset until 4 a.m. It’s when I can really get moving in my studio. It’s probably that I’m constantly occupied with everything going on during the day. I really need life around me to slow down so that I can hear myself think and start to process my thoughts and ideas. That’s not to say one part of the day could happen without the other. It is important for me to get out and socialize so that I can be inspired and excited about being in the studio.”

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Is there a living artist who is really inspiring to you right now?

It would be hard to name a single living inspirational artist, but I’ve always loved the work of Steve Powers (ESPO). He has been able to stay true to an art form that is very much his own style and yet he is always evolving.

He’s an artist that has successfully blended different areas of contemporary art; sign painting, graffiti, graphic design, fine art, comprehensive installations, etc. I was always intrigued with how there were these boundaries between creative practices and techniques, and seeing that all of my interests and inspirations could work together was a big part of making me the artist that I am now.

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Where can people see your work? What shows or projects do you have in the works?

I usually exhibit locally with Flanders Gallery, and it has access to much of my inventory at any given point. My work is part of a group exhibition that opened on October 3rd, 2014. I’m excited for things to come for the gallery. Its director, Kelly McChesney, has some big plans coming up, and I think they will provoke a lot of new excitement within the local community and beyond.

I am currently holding an interim working residency at the UNC-Greensboro Art Department. It’s been a fast-paced transition, but I’m excited to be in the environment and to see what comes of it. It’s always inspiring to be working among the expertise of great faculty and the energy of creative students. The school was a great resource to me during my undergraduate career, and it’s nice to be back and learning new things with the new technologies available in its studio spaces.

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There are a few mural works through out the area including a large-scale mural in downtown Durham that I recently completed with fellow artist Mat Curran. I also have several projects for public spaces in the works for 2015. There are a few things in Raleigh and Durham, and even a project in rural eastern North Carolina. There should be some fun stuff to come, and I plan to be working with great talents such as Shaun Richards, Taylor White, Pete Sack, David Eichenberger and Spcl Gst on some up coming shows and projects.

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Sean Kernick

Sean brings a mix of social consciousness, inspiration and creative connection to his life as a family man, artist, social organizer, producer, creative director and co-founder. “Family, friendship, and artwork are the pillars that keep my foundation secure. I am always looking to expand and explore all forms of artistic expression.”


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