Derek Hill: How brush with death inspired me
Jan 9 2009 by Paul Loraine, The Journal
AN artist is exhibiting work inspired by a near-fatal tropical illness he contracted in Africa.
Derek Hill said he became fascinated with bacteria after being struck down with a blood poisoning illness streptococcal septicemia on the Comoro Islands, which lie between Madagascar and Mozambique.
The bacteria left him in hospital for weeks and almost proved fatal but following his recovery he found the experience was shaping his artwork.
The work has been partly inspired by the illness, said Derek, of Sydney Grove, Newcastle.
The way the paintings are formed is quite organic and they appear as if seen under a microscope. I deliberately made them large to celebrate the fact that something so small can be so very deadly.
Derek, 53, uses industrial chemicals and oil paints to create large scale canvases that represent living, growing forms as if seen under laboratory conditions.
The exhibition Flaw will be on display at the Place gallery in Sunniside, Sunderland, until February 2.
Derek works on up to 10 paintings at any one time, pouring paint and solvents on to a canvas. Each of his works contains a substance or substances, which will allow an image or shape to morph, mutate and evolve, over a period of up to 24 hours. Some of his works take up to a year to dry.
When complete, some series of works are robust and tactile, Derek said. Other series, in contrast, appear almost three dimensional because of their rich luminous quality and they become almost transformed under both natural and artificial light.
The paint evolves as it is drying and some have evolved over several months to a year. Its an industrial process but it achieves something alive and organic.
As the pieces are drying they are alive in the sense that they mutate themselves. In the future I would love to do collaborations with doctors and work with different materials.
While he says his illness provided a springboard of inspiration, he says he wants the work to be critically appraised and not entirely an expression of his fascination with bacteria.
The latest part of Sunnisides s130m regeneration programme, the Place is home to an exhibition space, a caf, meeting rooms, studios and offices.
Derek has been co-founder and lead artist at the Art Studio in Sunderland for 22 years. The Studio is an independent organisation that offers a supportive environment with free studio space, materials and workshop-based arts to people with mental health problems.