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OWAG Track Light #7—> Derek Brown (South Africa)

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.

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Today, I talk with South African mixed media artist and illustrator Derek Brown.

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John: So, Derek, where did you grow up and where do you now call home?

Derek: I grew up and still live in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

John: Tell us a bit about that.

Derek: Jozi is wonderful. You have to be on your toes but it’s a beautiful place with awesome people and even better weather. Growing up here has been amazing and continues to teach me about who I am as a person in relation to our dynamic culture.

Graffiti in particular has taken a big step up in its quality in Johannesburg. There’s so much talent out on the streets and I’m honored to be a part of this really special thing being cultivated down here even if it’s only a small part for the moment.

Graffiti by Derek Brown.

John: From your Instagram account, it looks you do a bit of motocross, yeah? South Africa has a history of some top riders, including DH mountain bikers, which I really dig.

Derek: I agree, South Africa knows how to produce a classy champion or two. My brother Barry and I grew up riding and racing bikes and still try get out as much as possible. I’m more into the mountain biking and jumpers these days and having crazy fun thanks to the foundations motocross gave me.

Sasolburg Saturday, photo montage taken by Derek Brown.
Tabletop tail-whip in Johannesburg; photo taken by Derek Brown.

Unfortunately, my free time is limited because I’ve recently taken a fantastic tangent in my career, moving away from multimedia and graphic design into 3D industrial design alongside my brother in our company, Tim Mabel Design. I’m also doing original art projects and commissions as much as I can between the day-to-day work. 

Balance in life is key I believe… I refuse to have my time filled only with work. Physical activities like motocross and mountain bike riding (and hiking and building on hillsides for trails and jumps), boxing and more recently, carpentry and metal work all help me have fun, release stress and think differently allowing me to express myself in new and different ways.

John: Do you travel much for work or leisure? Any favorite places in the world?

Derek: I wish I could travel more for either. It’s a goal of mine to work overseas with my art. I can’t pick a favorite place in the world, but I will let you know when I find it. Holidays are proper luxuries these days but looking forward to one soon. Regardless of what I am doing though, I almost always have a pen and paper with me. Or my camera.

“This Time Last Year It Was Bad” doodle by Derek Brown.

John: I’m going to recommend Queenstown, New Zealand for some MTB and MX….

Derek: Sounds good. I also hear Canada has some super cool riding.

John: Absolutely. So your style is rather unique– it feels like a bit of biro and notebook scribbles plus street art. How has it developed over time? When did you get started?

Derek: I’ve had the odd notebook full of scribbles, so you got me there. My dad taught me to draw cartoons when I was really young and I haven’t put down a pen since. I studied multimedia design and also had the very fortunate luck to have an excellent art mentor for a number of years, too.

“Piece Of Escape” mixed media on paper.
“Snake Wrestling” acrylic and ink on paper.

John: Where do your inspirations come from?

Derek: My process of art-making is to have lots of fun and ultimately enjoy what I’m producing. Simply trying to do the best I can with what’s available at the time. Learning is a big part too. Everyday. About myself and the way I produce and channel my creativity. Unless I’m being paid or have a passion for a piece, I scrap or shelve work very quickly if the energy fades.

I have an amazing bunch of close people (family and mates) from whom I draw inspiration and direction. Most of them are successful creatives in their own right so we have similar mindsets and the ideas flow openly. I find strangers serve well for unexpected insights and then finally, opportunities to work with exciting new people like yourself on projects like the DrawBag has been so cool and really motivating.

 

“The Wiener Dog Confrontation” mixed media on upcycled cardboard.
Up-cycling and re-purposing are always a bonus… I’m a big fan of a waste-free world. I hate to ignore the potential to transform something most would considered as scrap or trash into a contemporary work. Creation is my aim, what it’s achieved with is negotiable.

John: Favorite artist?

Derek: Picking a favorite is difficult… I enjoy different things at different times. But Pablo Picasso would be one of my favorites. I dig his style. To me, his simple illustrations are beautifully unforced.

John: And who or what do you make art for?

Derek: In the past, I created art mostly for myself as it came very naturally to me. It was an organic practice… I was always drawing and thinking on concepts. Now, I have a more considered approach to making art for people and businesses who value the work I’m producing and are interested in the various applications that it can be executed on, in, or for. And then still for myself when I get the chance… I also love hitting up a dirty wall with some fresh cans or rollers or simply getting the camera out and shooting what’s in front of me.

John: Where did your design for your DrawBag come from? Is it something like a stream on consciousness or are there some intentional, hidden messages in there?

Derek: I had no idea how it was going to turn out when I started. The content defines itself as I work. There are definitely some deeper meanings to some of it… I drew this during a time when I was starting to find some balance in my life and focus on a new direction.

John: I think alot of artists work this way, at least from time to time. It can be difficult to trust that the work will in some ways become apparent without forcing or deciding early in the process, right? But that’s where alot of great ideas and work ultimately can come from. 

So, if anyone wants to connect with you, what’s the best way?

Derek: Feel free to hit me up on Instagram @derekbrownart and Facebook @derekbrownartko or drop me an email: helloderekbrown@gmail.com

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