We visited the sculptor Derek Weisburg at his studio in Bushwick. Focused on abstract human forms, Weisburg’s creativity, technique, and personality are manifested in his work. Dan and Derek met to discuss his art and his neighborhood.
Where did you start as the sculptor?
Age 6, I put my hands in clay. Before that, it was mash potatoes at the dinner table. Or taking old action figures and taking them apart and reassembling with a hot glue gun.
We look around the room, we see the masks and the elegant almost art deco like forms. How have your motifs thematically progressed?
About 10 years ago, I was very interested in making very refined, stylized figures. Super detailed, super sculptured – I was trying to master the material. Trying to make the clay do exactly what I wanted it to do. In doing that, I learned to really control the material. Down to the eyelids and the creases and folds in the skin - there was a hyper-stylization of the figure. At a certain point, I kind of let go of that and moved more into abstraction, expressionistic mark making, and working more intuitively. I think that all the time spent mastering the craft really refined what I was doing,
This seems like the common phrase – you must know the rules before you can break them?
First you have to be able to first command the material and have a level of craft before true personalization can occur.
It seems to me that we still see elements of this in your work such as your collage pieces but even those pieces are part of the secondary version – because there are features that are abstracted.
Yes, where I formerly represented the form exactly – then I began to elongate the forehead and pull the eyes back and that’s what led to each iteration of abstraction away from the classical form.
Early on, I necessarily made the art naturalistic and then later I could abstract and exaggerate the forms.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on abstracted, figurative plaster sculptures using the idea of shell for a metaphor of home and emptiness.
Where did the inspiration for this very specific idea come from?
Partly it’s a natural evolution of my use of plaster. But I looked specifically to the arte povera  - meaning poor art – an Italian 1960s art movement using cheap materials. I like the idea of using materials that are easily available.
Where are you from and how did you get to Bushwick?
Born and raised in the bay area – in a small town called Benicia, 45 minutes north of SF. I went to California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and lived there for 10 years and moved to NY about 5 years ago.
Why did you come to NY?
Because New York is New York.
But, really, why?
Both parents are from New York – so as a kid I would come back and visit. I knew New York from those experiences. From a very early age I wanted to live here. I could feel the energy and excitement and the draw of the place from my single digits. Also being an artist. It’s really important to be in New York for a period time because you’re exposed to exhibitions, quality of work, scale of work, opportunities that you wouldn’t be exposed to in other places. I think that it’s a requirement as an artist.
Then why Bushwick?
Honestly, it’s what I could afford [laughing]. New York is so goddamn expensive. On that note, making my work has always been my priority. So, that means making money, wasn’t. I’d rather have more studio time to make my work then work another job and make money. Also, there are a lot of artists and creatives that live here and now there are a lot of great restaurants and good bars.
How long have you been in Bushwick?
5 years?
What are your spots in Bushwick?
I mean my studio – but for drinks. I like the Keep because it’s a funky, funny-odd place with all this stuff inside and no one is ever there [laughing]! You can get your seat at the bar, you can get your drink – it’s perfect. That’s my style.
For food – I like this place for sandwich called Hi Hello.
If you weren’t a sculpture, what would you be doing?
Not a real question. There’s no choice. I don’t have a choice. This is all that I’ve ever done. All that I can imagine doing.