Clark Derbes: Self-Portrait
While the rumbling roar of a landscaping neighbor’s chainsaw would make most of us groan with annoyance, it’s music to eclectic artist Clark Derbes’ ears. That fallen tree trunk in the next yard over will find new life in Clark’s South End Burlington studio as a carved, poly-chromed wood sculpture. His artistic imagination is limitless- firewood fodder is recreated as art and a rusting graveyard of truck beds behind his studio becomes a spray paint-able sketchbook of ideas.
While the “sketchbook” truck yard will stay parked, a diverse selection of new freestanding sculptures, wall pieces, and works on canvas will be on view in the Central Gallery at West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park from August 7th through September 30th.
Born in New Orleans, LA and raised in Baton Rouge, Derbes was influenced early on by the vernacular traditions of carved and brightly painted wood sculpture in the South. His northbound migration to New York City and ultimately to Vermont, where he now works and lives with his wife, fellow artist Wylie Sofia Garcia, and their two children, introduced a slew of new and unexpected reservoirs of creative inspiration. Roadside chainsaw carvings witnessed on the back routes of Vermont highways and a longtime familiarity with the beaded pageantry of Mardi Gras aesthetically collide in Clark’s new works on view at West Branch.
The works in Derbes’ exhibition entitled Self-Portrait are “non-representational yet autobiographical” depictions of the artist’s hybrid personality. His poly-chromed poplar sculpture, RaRa, embodies this duality. Its varying hues of gray, white, and black create subtly expansive geometric spaces when viewed from one angle, while its mirrored flipside is enveloped by a visually arresting grid of golds, brilliant reds, and squares of orange.
Derbes’ ability to pull creative inspiration from the most unlikely sources and boundless enthusiasm for art-making in all mediums infuses his works with an excitement and energy that collide in what he has called “a bomb of coolness.” Clark is an explosive conglomeration of aesthetic contradictions, at once a self-declared folk artist and intellectual conceptualist, an admirer of Sol LeWitt and avid appreciator of prehistoric art, identifying as northerner and southerner, explorer and homesteader. Whether as populist muralist, sculptor, or folk artist, Derbes approaches his art-making intuitively and with an openness that encourages viewers to make visual and personal associations even more varied than his own.