Derek Overfield, based in Fairmont, West Virginia, is a contemporary figure artist whose paintings reflect his love of myth and tragedies. His use of minimalistic gestures fully capture the movement and emotions found in these ancient tales. (Above) “The Pain of Achilles” (latex and spray paint on canvas, 2017)
FORTH: What inspires you to create your gestural pieces? Are there any particular artists who you look up to?
DO: I’m a bit of an expressionist and a classicist, with elements of humanism and romanticism, so… that being said, inspiration can come from many places! Primarily, I would say the mediums themselves, as well as the tragic and beautifully raw stories of humanity’s myths, folklore and literature.
Being a huge fan of figurative art from all times and places, and particularly antiquity and the Renaissance, it’s no surprise that the most influential artist for me is Michelangelo. Once I decided to become a serious figurative artist, it’s always been Michelangelo, as well as his figurative successor Rodin.
FORTH: How did you develop your technique/style? Did you go through a series of progressions to get to where you are at or did it come about more naturally?
DO: Yes, and no. I’ve been painting/drawing the figure seriously since college (that’s been a ways back now). But my paintings weren’t connecting to the drawings like I hoped they would. I was working in an acrylic impasto, and though I loved the result, I wanted them to connect even more.
Back in college, I had an art professor that once told me “No one really paints like they draw, maybe try to be the artist that pulls that off.” While I’m not claiming to have achieved that, a few years ago I put down the brushes and acrylics, picked up a can of latex paint and began “drawing” in paint with chisels and rags. The result was what I’d always been looking for.
FORTH: Explain a bit about your journey as an artist or talk about what a typical day is like in the studio.
DO: I grew up in a very rural area so access to fine art was limited. However, I had access to a wealth of dynamic figurative art at the grocery store newsstand in the form of comic books. It was from these books that I learned the “language of the body” as I call it. Once I got to college, I began to work with Lynn Boggess and he broke me out of the rigid tameness of beginner art.
As I started to look at art history and I found that the heroism and power of comics had always been there. In fact, it was the basis for the heroism and power of comic books. This sounds obvious now, but to a kid, this was a revelation. I was determined to make art that had a foot in the contemporary and the ancient world.
FORTH: How do you see your work evolving? What comes next?
DO: I think all artists struggle with expectations – theirs and others’ expectations about art making in general. Often when you’re creating a piece you ask yourself if it is enough, or if it is powerful or sophisticated. I was reading a bio about Jackson Pollock. His wife, the painter Lee Krasner, walked into his barn studio one day and looked at work in process. He asked her “Is this a painting?” She made sure to clarify to the biographer that he didn’t ask, “Is this a good painting?”
At that moment, he was questioning if what he was doing was even painting at all. We all have those moments, of varying degree and influence over us. [I hope to] continue to listen even more to myself and not to let other voices drift in.
My work feels authentic and right to me. I hope to grow more in that respect for my own instincts. My aim is not to bend to others’ mold of what a figure painting is. But to perhaps make their mold more sympathetic to my definition.
FORTH: What do you wish to achieve through your work?
DO: Ha, isn’t that the question? I admire all figurative art and want to be part of that vast overarching story, however small that part might be. My greatest aim is to instill life, vitality, energy or “sacred fire” into the figure. I owe it that much, for all it has done for me.
To view more of Derek Overfield’s works, visit derekoverfield.com