Dead Men’s Tales: The Art Of Derek Nobbs
Dead Men’s Tales: The Art of Derek Nobbs.
– World Without Sun – Derek Nobbs –
Some time ago, whilst giving the hound an evening trot, I decided to drop by my friends house for a beer. He and his wife have a place on top of a hill, looming over the deep, wooded valleys of North Cornwall and has wide, clear views over the boundless Atlantic to the west.
As we slugged on a dark, viscous ale, he told me he’d come across an artist that I should probably take a look at, as he thought it’d be something that I’d dig.
It’s heartening to have friends who know me so well, for he was dead right – with a suitably blood-red sunset happening over and beyond the laptop screen, I was introduced to the work of Derek Nobbs. It was, certainly, my kind of thing as he’d suspected and I set about showing it to like-minded cohorts.
Since then, I’ve caught up and followed the story of Derek Nobbs, a painter from the shadowy reaches of the Pacific Northwest. The interviews I’ve read have been knowingly elusive, but this just adds to the tantalising mystery about the man himself. From where he lives and works, to the paper on which he paints (*it may or may not “contain coal dust, ambergris, tobacco found in a civil war soldier’s jacket pocket, wolves blood, and the last dregs of whiskey found in his great grandfather’s old derelict cellar…”) there is a lot of unknown left amongst the scattered known.
His work has even helped inspire me to start planning an exhibition next year that will seek to attract some artists of a similar ilk. More about that after Christmas, with luck.
One of the real perks as curator of this site is that I can approach artists I respect with a degree of authority, and not just as a wide-eyed disciple. So I put a few questions to the man himself, trying to unveil just a little more of the thinking behind the work…
CW: Hi Derek. So, from what I’ve seen of your work, it seems you have a very healthy interest in the sea and the land, and the critters therein. A darker side of nature in general (not least the theme of death and destruction itself) features quite heavily. Granted, it’s a pretty big question, but how do you think this view has formed?
DN: The answer to that complex question is equally complex and multi-dimensional. I will address one aspect of it here. When I was a kid, I would catch lizards to keep for a while as pets. One day I was trying to catch a lizard that was under a board; as I lifted one side of the board the lizard tried to run under the other side and I smashed its head. That was the first time I can remember experiencing death, right there among nature. I suppose that could be the origin of the “darker side of nature” in my work (although I was probably already drawing skulls). Everything we do has a effect on nature, generally not in the positive – I try to address that in my paintings.
CW: You live and paint at a place called Squalor Harbour, in the Pacific North-West, and the sea is obviously a big factor in your work, but it never appears as something you’d want a gentle midday swim in. Talk to me about your favourite sea-state…
DN: The sea is a mystery, the depths of which have not been explored. The sea should be respected, protected, preserved, and feared. Who knows what secrets lie beneath the waves, be it our destruction or our saving.
– The artist in his studio, in the Pacific Northwest –
CW: At my local cove, over 100 years ago, there’s a popular story of a mermaid sighting. Are you a believer?
DN: I caught a mermaid once off the coast of Oregon, but I accidentally smashed its head.
CW: Does Squalor Harbour really exist? It sounds almost too fitting…
DN: You won’t find it on a map, but it’s quite real.
CW: How do you feel about your work being recreated as tattoos? I know I’m keen.
DN: I suppose I don’t care, I just wish people would seek out skilled tattoo artists and stay to true to my work.
– Detail in The Black Hearted Blues –
CW: You’ve never really given away the full secret of your paper, though you’ve alluded to it several times. Don’t suppose I can get the scoop?
DN: The secret is cemetery dirt and bourbon.
CW: I also noticed that, in your collaborations with t-shirt manufacturers, you’ve worked with companies here in Great Britain and the Ukraine. How come so far afield?
DN: I get approached very often with offers and requests, so I have the liberty to choose with whom I want to work. I like to work with people passionate about what they do. I am especially excited about my project with Rust & Regret out of Australia. Simon at Rust & Regret is one of the most passionate people I’ve gotten to work with. I’ve been working very closely with him on a limited edition nautically-themed signet ring – it should be available soon.
* from article in Hi-Fructose magazine, here.