Born in 1967 from German and Jamaican parentage, Vancouver, BC artist Derek von Essen relocated from Toronto in 1991. While working in photography, painting, graphic design, video and mixed-media art, von Essen has earned his self-taught education through observation, experience and a thirst for knowledge. His do-it-yourself leanings have propelled him to always challenge and extend himself within the creative fields he works in. It's part of his root system, as is the crossover of media he continually combines in projects. His use of found objects has no limitations and finds its place within an ongoing theme of recycling elements, such as using found conversations (dialogue from passersby in public spaces), combining immiscible mediums while painting and creating digital photomontages and video works. His paintings and photography often appear within his design and video work, while all of it merges into new means of expression with his unique mixed-media illustrations.
Arts journalist Nancy Lanthier writes: "The paintings portray von Essen's expansive side; brimming with language, they convey intricate personal treaties, like songs in colour. The artist also can be cooly succinct; one or two-word images are edgy or amusing, or when the text takes on imagistic characteristics, visually ironic. His wordless paintings are architectural abstractions in rich hues, evocative of back alleys and twilight. Diligent and relentlessly inquiring, Derek von Essen has created a significant body of art."
He photo-documented the 80’s underground music scene at hundreds of club shows in Toronto including touring acts Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney before they achieved fame. Photographed before the digital age, von Essen's photo archive captures images the Vancouver Westender called, “confrontational, kinetic and the result of a keen eye for the perfect moment”. His affected hearing damage deterred a long future as a rock photographer.
As a graphic artist since 1995, von Essen has a specialized client base in fine arts, dance, theatre, music, film and publishing industries. Some of his clients have included Anvil Press, Arts Umbrella, Cormorant Books, Kinesis Dance, Joe Ink Dance, La La La Human Steps, Playwrights Canada Press, Screen Siren Pictures and the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. In addition, he created all design and print materials for over fifty individual dance and theatre advertising campaigns, including the 1999-2006 seasons for Ballet British Columbia and The Playhouse's 2000-2004 seasons. He has designed book covers for authors Jim Christie, Dennis Foon, Darren Greer, Robert Majzels, Jim Oaten and Pamela Stewart.
His installation series, Horizons + Intersections (photography and video projection, 2004-2008) exhibited in Toronto at the Bau-Xi Gallery and in Vancouver at the East 3rd Gallery, with screenings in Canada, USA, China, Italy and various international art and film festivals. A Verse Map of Vancouver (Anvil Press, 2009), the 200-page hardback anthology edited by Vancouver's Poet Laureate George McWhirter was designed entirely by von Essen and includes almost two hundred of his photographs.
Through the 90’s to present day, von Essen has exhibited in numerous galleries and remains a part of collections across North America and Europe. His work has been published in magazines, exhibition catalogues, media reviews and design books. He was profiled on CBC television, has facilitated artist workshops and presentations and was honoured by the BC Business and Arts Awards.
The only three things that matter in real estate are "location, location, location!". I'm not sure who said it first but the phrase has been repeated countless times. A location, in particular an urban space, temporarily plays host to its natural setting only to eventually transform into a constructed environment. Often the location is documented, commemorated and/or immortalized with before and after photographs.
I am interested in what we do with our living spaces, the environment we choose to nurture and the changes which occur over time. Time and place are recurring themes in my work. Combined, they capture a transitional period of the location. There is always a before and after but the moment of transformation is often disregarded. Changes may occur slowly such as barnacles sprouting on beach rocks or as rapid as skyscrapers springing from the earth to rival a mountain's peak. This series conveys that period of flux — the journey of a forgotten time replaced by the anticipation of a [temporary] end result.
2008 The Tour Bus, Isabella Egan Gallery, Vancouver
Horizons + Intersections III, East 3rd Gallery, Vancouver
2006 Drawings & Paintings
00-05 Kleinsteuber Gallery,Vancouver
2005 88: Rock Photography from 1988-1993, Zulu Records,Vancouver;
2003 Scrinked, Studio Blue,Vancouver
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2009 Timeraiser art auction, The Roundhouse, Vancouver
2009 Unite with Art UNICEF art auction,The Old Storyeum, Vancouver
2008 Splash, Arts Umbrella art auction, Vancouver
The Cheaper Show,The Old Storyeum,Vancouver
For Instance, Isabella Egan Gallery,Vancouver
2007 Horizons + Intersections III, Bau-Xi Gallery,Toronto
Interplay,Working Artists LLC, Portland, Oregon
Artist Auditions: Phase III, Brian Marki Gallery, Portland, Oregon
2006 Cheaper Than a One Night Stand, Arthouse Gallery,Vancouver
Group Show, Leonardo Gallery,Toronto
Small Works, Leonardo Gallery,Toronto
2005 Group Show, Engine Gallery,Toronto
A New Works Group Show”,The Hive,Vancouver
Red is Best, Kleinsteuber Gallery,Vancouver
2004 Scrinked, Jericho Arts Centre,Vancouver
Is Mail Art Dead, Northampton University, UK
Cheaper Than a One Night Stand, Elliott Louis Gallery,Vancouver
I Am Grateful, 44 Water Street,Vancouver
2003 Perspectives on Change, Juried, Artropolis
2003 CBC Studios, Vancouver “Paintings
00-01 Dv8 Lounge & Gallery,Vancouver
2002 Open Studio, Artists in Our Midst,Vancouver
New Würks, Studio Blue,Vancouver
2001 Juried Exhibition, Artropolis, CBC Studios,Vancouver
Artropolis Self-Por trait Exhibition, CBC Studios,Vancouver
2000 Summer Group Show,Third Avenue Gallery,Vancouver
1998 Small Worlds, Moonbase Gallery,Vancouver
1996 Stranger Than Outer Space, H.R. MacMillan Space Centre,Vancouver
2005 One Minute Film & Video Festival,Thematic & Conceptual Integration Award
1999 Vancouver Business & Arts Awards, Honoured by Kinesis Dance