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The Art of Derek Dohren

painting, writing, photography



Todos vivimos en un submarino amarillo

Posted on February 24, 2010 at 3:49 PM

I don't think it's a secret that life's a struggle at present. Everyone speaks a different language, yet everyone seems to understand one another except me. Money continues to hemorrhage (correct spelling according to my dictionary but it looks so wrong) and work still lies thin on the ground, though I have doubled my private pupil total to two. So, if I were to double that again next week, then again the week after ...


I have to stay positive of course and with that in mind I can report that the painting juices are flowing again. Here's the cathedral, based on the photo I took the other day (just below this entry in fact). I felt 'in the zone' painting it and feel encouraged I can do more work like this that is hopefully commercial enough to bring in a few Euros. This is viewable in a bigger format in the gallery section ...



Also my Wednesday evening student is keen for us to sing Beatles songs next week. Yes the very thought would ordinarily fill me with horror, but being paid for it kind of softens the blow. She convinced me that singing is the best way she learns and having bought the line I suppose it's best to be singing half decent, grown up tunes, with no one looking at me. My task, should I accept (and I kind of already have) is to provide a translation into Spanish, just for the record so to speak, of whatever songs we sing. I'm thinking we won't be doing Oh-Bla-Di Oh-Bla-Da and I'm praying she doesn't read all about me and John, Paul, George and Ringo on a certain other page at this site else questions will be asked.


My other pupil lives in the Sierras, in a place called Monachil, a stone's throw from yer real proper mountain ranges. It's a few thousand feet up and a distinct degree or two cooler up there. One thing that struck me on my first visit was just how rubbish the whole Spanish rural/wilderness scenery is compared to what you get in the good old UK. Scotland's relatively tiny little glens and lochs knock spots off this place and all Scots should take comfort from the confirmed proof that size isn't everything. They may have the big mountains here but you have all the style.


Zubien Art

Posted on February 14, 2010 at 7:05 AM

Well here's my first effort from my new home. What else could I paint other than the Alhambra? I had no references to hand so merely used an image on the cover of a streetmap as a vague reference to shapes and so on. I pretty much abstracted the rest but wanted to see if I could produce a�quick�yet�acceptable smallish image (A4) good enough to sell to tourists. The result is ok and the spontanaiety is there but I'll hopefully�get better. It will be good for my painting to produce smaller and quicker images.

Rothko at Tate Liverpool

Posted on December 27, 2009 at 12:53 PM

I'm spending Christmas in Liverpool and as luck would have it the Tate Modern down in the Albert Dock is showing Rothko's Four Season murals. Having read so much about these paintings and of the tortured man behind them it was a fantastic opportunity, too good to miss. So off I went.


The Tate has nine of these colossal, mysterious paintings, bequeathed by Rothko himself when he inexplicably pulled them away from their original home-to-be, the snooty restaurant of the Seagram building in Manhattan (the paintings of course were destined to become better known as the 'Seagram Murals').


I had heard tales of viewers being overwhelmed by the power of these colour field masterpieces, of a sense of awe one felt when one stood in their presence. Such is their bleakness and stark simplicity, and lack of any recognisable imagery, the viewer has little choice but to internalise. Dark colours and weak lighting lead inevitably, so it's supposed, to much soul searching. An artist acquaintance of mine told me he had cried in front of them.


Now, maybe that was a level of hype that was never going to be lived up to, or maybe I'm just not the sensitive type, but I'm afraid to say the experience for me was considerably less dramatic than I had anticipated.


I tried. I really did.


I stood long and I stood quietly. I let the bleak colours suffuse into my head and waited for some sort of revelation. I went out and came back in again. But nothing.


Sure, the paintings have an impressive aura but I'm not sure that's not more to do with a certain weight of history they now carry than anything else. They are big and they do menace you as they hang in the dingy light Rothko always insisted they be bathed in. But... well, I don't know. 



Can you feel it?


I came, I saw, I looked long and hard, and then, feeling somewhat shortchanged, nipped over to the Walker Art Gallery and looked instead at some of the UK's 20th century modernists, Hockney and Hoyland amongst them. Disappointment however, had already set in.


It seemed that Rothko's murals had sucked something out of my soul and in a way I was glad of that. One of his intentions was to set the viewer in on himself, to make a set of paintings that would make you think you had been trapped in a windowless room that had been bricked up. Perhaps the feeling of antipathy I later felt in the Walker was a manifestation of that?


And now I'm glad I saw them. The experience didn't move me in the way I expected, but the paintings certainly left an impression and without doubt they coloured my day. I imagine them now, brooding on the walls of the closed gallery like a malevolent alien species, waiting to draw life from tomorrow's visitors. I kind of like that idea.


In an interesting aside - the Tate took delivery of these paintings on the same February day in 1970 that Mark Rothko committed suicide. Something else I fancy, that adds fuel to the whole myth surrounding them.

School of Saatchi

Posted on December 15, 2009 at 6:33 AM

Charles Saatchi's search for a new talent to promote came to an end on TV last night here in the UK. BBC2's School of Saatchi ran for three weeks during which time we saw a host of young art students whittled down to a final group of six. They each had to install their own works in various given locations. The elusive Saatchi (never seen on screen during the show) viewed the works privately and communicated his views back to the artists via his coterie of trusted advisors.


For much of the series I considered the eventual winner, Eugenie Scrase, to be something of a fraud. I don't think I was alone. Like far too much contemporary art her work was generally laughable.


Her final entry however, and the one deemed to have tipped the balance in her favour, was a section of tree trunk that had fallen onto a garden rail and impaled itself. She spotted it while out walking in a London suburb and arranged for the section of railing and trunk to be transported to the Saatchi museum - the location of the group's final installation challenge.


Eugenie Scrase's tree trunk installation here.


It was certainly an eye-catching piece and something that was fascinating to look at. It was without doubt her most interesting piece but the nagging facts remain: she didn't create the piece, and she didn't see anything that anyone else with an artistic eye wouldn't have immediately appreciated. Would it be unkind of me to suggest the fact that she is a beautiful young girl worked in her favour too?


One of the judging panel, Tracy Emin, made the point that Scrase did something most others would not have done in actually having the wherewithall to go and knock on the right doors to arrange ownership of this 'found object.' So what? I think if I was in the last 6 of a TV show I'd have had the motivation to do that too. It'll be interesting to see how Scrase develops now with the patronage of Mr. Saatchi secured. I wish her well though the show as a whole didn't do an awful lot to win me round to the joys of contemporary art.

Angels and Demons

Posted on December 12, 2009 at 9:29 PM

Corny, done to death, and oh sooo dull.


I know it's ridiculous and utterly irrational but we all have those little no-go areas of overdone kitsch that drive us mad. Others may see them as masterpieces but we view them as hackneyed guff. Don't you get sick of seeing the same things depicted in art over and over again? Here are my three overdone cliches ...


1. Guardian angels, winged other beings, heavenly spirits, angels, angels, angels  - yawwwn.  


2 Venice - gondolas, water, Saint Marks, the feckin Bridge of Sighs. Yeah, whatever.


3. Tuscany - Red slated roofs, tall skinny trees. Italy. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.


Here's a fourth one...


4. Scottish Highland crofts in orange and purple and crimson.


and another ...


5. ugly portraits of fat ugly people.


Obviously I'll be wildly disagreed with. You'll have your own bugbears. Such is life




The art of the self portrait

Posted on December 2, 2009 at 4:55 PM

Why do artists paint self portraits? Is it pure narcissism or is there another factor at work? The simplest answer to offer you is that artists need to paint, and if they want to paint from life - using a real life model - who better to use as a model than themselves? The self is always available, doesn't complain (too much) and there's no need to worry about sensibilities (don't make me look fat, don't make my nose too long etc etc).


Some of the greatest artists is history were serial self-portraitists. Rembrant van Rijn was perhaps the most famous of all those who committed their own image to canvas and the expansive series of self portraits he left behind now act as a marker for the ups and downs he experienced in life. He was a man visited in equal measure by joy and tragedy, wealth and poverty, and this is very much reflected in his self portraits.


The German painter Albrecht Durer was probably the first European painter to embrace this particular art form - even going as far as painting a full frontal nude of himself. Perhaps more well known was Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh whose most famous self portrait depicted himself bandaged in the wake of his ear self mutilation.


I have now painted seven self portraits, each of them in different styles and each depiction has its own qualities. What I have discovered is that obtaining a likeness is one path to painting a successful portrait but perhaps even more important is to provide an insight into my own character or to make a comment on myself that transcends physical appearance.


I attach my latest self portrait here. You can see a fuller version in the gallery section on this site. My aim was to show myself merging from, yet part of, a background of jumbled noise. Perhaps it says something about my current state of mind.



Sometimes, less is more

Posted on November 30, 2009 at 5:55 PM

I stumbled across the work of contemporary artist John D Wilson the other day. I thought it was very clever and innovative. His work is also carried off with more than a touch of humour, and that is sadly something which is often seen to be the hallmark of inferior or 'cheap' art. Not so. One of his paintings struck me as particularly poignant. 'The Lowry' depicts a family outing to the Lowry museum in Manchester and it reminded me of a visit I made to the same place late last year.

L.S. Lowry was certainly a painter not taken seriously by many. His funny matchstick men and his deceptively naive depictions of northern English mill town life were dismissed by many as childish.  However, his simplified figures and his perpetual use of a limited palette (always the same six colours - ivory, black, vermillion, Prussian blue, yellow ochre and his beloved flake white), produced paintings of startling complexity and originality, often teeming with the feet of literally hundreds of people.



One of my favourite Lowrys is this one here, entitled Going to the Match. It was painted in 1953 and depicts Bolton Wanderers' Burnden Park (now demolished). The trademark cotton mills of the industrial north provide a haunting backdrop and a reminder of where the men in this painting will spend the best part of their lives. If you look closely you can see a broad union jack shape amongst the football supporters as they wend their way to the stadium - a nod to Queen Elizabeth's coronation that same year.


Visit the LS Lowry site


A link here to John D Wilson's web site.


Walk to Freedom

Posted on November 27, 2009 at 7:32 AM

I finally experimented with collage and produced a mixed media abstract I called Walk to Freedom. It was inspired by an image I found in a magazine of Nelson Mandela's Hand of Africa signature. I put down a terracotta base to represent the African soil and splashed areas of vivid currulean blue to indicate the sky. Those colours always look good together. I then pasted on the Mandela hand and a few other pieces of text I found that I thought went well with the piece.


I found a copy of an Ellsworth Kelly abstract (the coloured squares) that I thought made a good statement about skin colour and racism. Same sized squares, all residing within the same box, within the same painting, their individual colours being the only difference between them.


I took a copy of my Fossil Hunters painting, slashed it up, and pasted a couple of pieces on. The extraction of fossils from the rock represents freedom after a long period of incarceration. I spread some of the colours of the rock bands across the terracotta and blue of Africa to bind them together.


Samuel J Peploe

Posted on November 25, 2009 at 6:08 PM

Samuel J Peploe was one member of a group of four painters, dubbed the 'Scottish Colourists', who plied their trade in early part of the 20th century. The Colourists never existed as a formal group, though they certainly knew each other and spent time painting together. They were only grouped and tagged with the label after three of them had died but their legacy to Scottish art seems to grow in importance with each passing year.


Peploe is my favourite of the four, due mainly to his painting 'The Girl In White', painted in 1906. There are many of his paintings in the Kelvingrove, and those of his three Colourist colleagues, John Duncan Fergusson, Francis C B Cadell, and George Leslie Hunter but sadly The Girl in White, now held in a private collection, is not amongst them. There is however, a large reproduction of the painting which I always make a point of looking out when I visit.



What I admire about this painting is Peploe's total confidence in what he is doing and his apparent economy of effort. Most of the brushstrokes are visible. He loaded his brushes thickly and painted lush, bold marks. The shapes and curves of the lady's figure are defined in a minimal number of strokes, not one of them out of place, not one of them superfluous, and each one essential to the overall composition. Though she is wearing white, relatively few of the strokes are actually made in white. 


You get the impression looking at this painting that the execution of it must have taken no more than fifteen minutes. And this was very much Peploe's style. He would agonise over a painting for an age before picking up a brush. Only when he had worked everything out in his head did he commit paint to the canvas. The end result was often a painting that needed no touching up or filling in, no reworking, with no endless fiddling by the artist visible. Instead what you get with a Peploe is a painting full of spontaneity and life, with all the energy and vigour of the creative process left intact. Samuel J Peploe, a true genius and someone whose reputation steadily grows with the passage of time.


The Night Forest

Posted on November 23, 2009 at 3:55 AM

Dumfries and Galloway Forest in south-west Scotland has just become the UK's first designated Dark Sky Park. There are very few places in Britain where the night sky can be viewed without the spoiling effects of light pollution. I think it's a great idea, if a slightly ironic one, for the area to use its remoteness as a means of attracting visitors.


My idea of how the sky might look from the night forest. Acrylic on boxed canvas, 40cm x 40cm.

Glasgow and Salvador Dali

Posted on November 22, 2009 at 12:36 PM

Well that's just about a fortnight I've been back home, and what a grey and dreich two weeks it's been. We just about escaped the worst of the torrents of rain that caused tragedy in parts of northern England this week though the 36 hours we got last week was enough for the Clyde to burst its banks in many stretches along this part of South Lanarkshire. Hopefully, the worst is now over.


I'm looking to drive into Glasgow this week and get along to the Kelvingrove Gallery for a much needed art fix. Missing out on the Alhambra was a sore one but at least I know that practically on my own doorstep I have access to some of the world's greatest pieces of fine art.


Amongst the very best the Kelvingrove has to offer is Salvador Dali's Christ of St John of the Cross. This is a truly outstanding painting - on so many levels. Painted in the early 1950s it shows the crucifiction of Jesus from a perspective no one would ever have actually seen.


Dali drew inspiration for the painting from the work of a 15th century Carmellite monk who had sketched a cruder though similar image after seeing a vision.

When Glasgow Museums bought the piece a storm was whipped up by the avant garde art community who felt Dali had sold out and had painted something in an old tradition. They felt the money spent could have gone to better use. Bringing such an iconically religious painting to Glasgow, a city notoriously divided down Catholic and Protestant lines, was also an extremely dangerous thing to do.

In the 1960s the painting was attacked and slashed by a dissaffected student. Though it has been repaired you can still see the long deep scar lines if you look closely enough.

However, over time, the painting has come to be a much loved part of the city's cultural heritage.

I love standing in front of it and marvelling at Dali's skill in producing something that I can never actually figure out. Am I above the cross looking down? Am I below it looking up? Is it rising, falling or just kind of hovering? Christ's face is hidden. What expression is on his face? Is he dead at this point? How does Dali realise this disorienting effect?

You leave with more questions than answers, never a bad thing. 


As a work of sublime spirituality it's an enormously powerful piece of work. That's what people realise when they stand in front of it, and that ultimately is why the people of Glasgow cherish the painting that caused so many such anguish when it first arrived.