Steven G. Derks
801 N. Main Ave.
Tucson , Arizona 85705
Born 1957 Dubuque IA.
Currently working in Tucson AZ.
Steven Derks is a practicing full-time Self taught artist focusing primarily in metal sculpture with an emphasis on as is found object art, and a minor practice in non-objective painting and photography.His work can be found in numerous public,corporate,museum and private art collections both in the United States and abroad. Notably a six year exhibition in the oval office / white house during the Clinton administration, and an ongoing residency exhibit at the University of Arizona Bio 2 in Oracle Az.
The Art of Steven Derks
The most salient feature of the art of Steven Derks is a dance of art and emotion with parts and remnants of a mechanical world. We all know him for the sculpture made of salvaged machine parts. Some of it becomes furniture, and I sit now and then on chairs by a table all made from welded machine parts. I look at sculptures made from found objects, a bronzed cup and candle. There is cleverness in all this captures attention and evokes a smile. He is not afraid to amuse us with color and form in ravished objects. There is art that moves us into darker emotions, his sculpture made of guns and hearts. He can leave you amused at the wit of turning industrial junk into pretty furniture and saddened by the guns stuck into hearts. That is my personal relation to his art. I make art and once made something at his invitation enjoying his welding skills to convert mechanical leavings into a pair guys.
I am a writer about art, a philosopher of art by profession, so I am here to ply my trade to do what my friend and art critic, Arthur Danto did, philosophize art – the are of Derks. When I first looked at his art I thought of the surrealism of Magritte. Consider Magritte’s very realistic painting of a pipe including the message in French, Ceci n’est pas une pipe. The object is not a pipe. Art is what it is by not being what it configures or reconfigures. Industrial junk in Derk’s art is not what it is. I will tell you why that matters in the end, first more about the philosophy of art. The next thing I see in the art of Derks is the art of Duchamp. Fountain. The urinal displayed as an art object placed in such a way that it cannot function as a urinal. It is a urinal that is not a urinal. The meaning is much discussed, and art history would take you to Dadaism. But that is not my take. I see people laugh when they see Fountain at MOMA. I watch and think, “You got it.” It is witty to present a urinal as an artwork, partly because unlike the work of Derks, it is so minimally altered. Fountain is an artwork that is not a work of art. Of course, after that there is Rauschenberg converting a bed into an artwork. You cannot lie in the bed on the wall. It is a very messy bed on a wall that is not any longer a bed. It leaves you with the thought and feeling that beds are the messy part of life.
There is meaning in the transformation of an object into art that moves you to laugh, cry or in the case of Derks, just sit down. Like Fountain, the furniture art of Derks amuses you. It takes you deeper into reflections about the industrial world spewing out parts and pieces of commercial junk that are no longer fill their practical purpose. Derks transforms them into art. With a wonderful twist, taking art beyond Duchamp and Rauschenberg, Derks gives them a practical function. There is nothing you can do with Fountain or Bed except place them in a museum. The next step Derks takes, a kind of double entendre, is to make the artwork into the practical object. It is not art for art’s sake. It is art of life’s sake. It is what it is by not being what it is. Beyond this stage of Derks, there is his painting of parts of commercial objects. Some of them contain the objects, others simply represent them with artistic exactness. The paintings of industrials parts take me back into Derks’s junkyard that is our junkyard. They are not simply a sad message about our commercial junk, represented by Vik Muniz among others. Derks’s portrayal of industrial parts has, like his transformation of the industrial bits and shapes in his works of furniture art, moves beyond the remnants of junk into a future of renewal. We are invited to make something of our junk. He shows you a projection from the leavings of the past into the creation of meaning and beauty.
I leave Derks and his art to offer you philosophy about it. What, you might ask is the importance of art not being what it is? What do we learn as we stand before the artwork Derks seeing leavings from the past existing in the present in the mode of junk not being junk, projected creatively toward a future that does not yet exist? We confront what we are. We are our past in mode of not being it, projected creatively toward a future that does not yet exist. His art reveals to us our creation of the meaning and beauty of ourselves. Enjoy his art for the sake of your life.
Keith Lehrer, philosopher/artist/author
Art, Self and Knowledge (Oxford, 2012)