IMAGINE THAT! Fun facts about Derek Fordjour, Artist-in-Residence

IMAGINE THAT! Fun facts about Derek Fordjour, Artist-in-Residence by Souleo

The Museum’s second artist-in-residence, Derek Fordjour only moved in on October 1. But he is already making a mark through his dexterity with various media such as paint, wood, and newspaper. The Sugar Hill resident (born in Memphis, TN) is also known for his visual references to sports, board and card games, carnivals, and the circus. The motifs serve as a portal to exploring the dynamics of games, both in their literal and metaphorical sense as a representation of everyday lived experiences. In between working on his new pieces and hosting open studio sessions, Fordjour shared with us insight into his creative world. Read on to find out the first work of art he created as a toddler, why he doesn’t play when it comes to the deeper meaning of games, and why he compares oil paint to toothpaste. Imagine that!

Derek began making art at the age of 3

“My mother would bring me the cardboard backing from the inside of my father's laundered shirts direct from the dry cleaners. Using that surface, my first successful piece was a red fire engine made with Crayola crayons. My mother was impressed and posted the drawing on the refrigerator. This experience remains at the heart of my practice today. I began with a discarded/found material (cardboard), transformed it through the efforts of my own making (crayons) and experienced the displaying of my work (kitchen). I am still very much engaged in this process and still experience much of the same delight.”

Three Stack, 2014, Derek Fordjour, Acrylic, oil pastel and charcoal on newspaper collage_76 x 90 in.

It’s not a game

“My childhood was pre-digital. We would play driving games and upright video games with joysticks for hours; however most of the games of my youth were analog. Board games were plentiful. Card games were also very popular in the south as were traveling state fairs, carnivals and casinos. In my work the language of games and sporting contests does afford a conceptual space in which the exploration of many more layered ideas are possible. Many ideas that have shaped the fundamental questions in my life experience pertain to fairness, rule setting, conformity, unity, competition and notions of winning and losing.”

100 pounds of wood on the wall

“Wood for me is a humble material that signifies time and history and connects us to the earth. Wood connects me to my southern roots and my Ghanaian heritage. In Memphis, I grew up around wooded areas, wooden furniture, and firewood in winters and simple shacks in the countryside. The first sculptures I ever engaged with were carved wooden statues of the Asante people and we played wooden drums that my father would bring back from Ghana. I am currently working on a piece in my studio that does not yet have a title. This is by far the most wood I've used in one piece. It weighs nearly 100 pounds.”

Painting with toothpaste (well, almost)

“I began painting in oil around the age of 15 after many years of intense drawing. It was as seductive then as it is today. To think that a painting can hold light, create space and depth, form, texture, imagery and convey emotion with a material much akin to the toothpaste I use each morning is pretty amazing! Despite all of this, each painting for me begins with a clear idea and basic drawing.” 

Huddle, 2014, Derek Fordjour, Wood, terra cotta, glass, acrylic and vinyl paint_28 in diameter_56 indvidual clay figures.

Extra! Extra! Art all about it!

“I like the ideas of information and communication that newspapers represent symbolically. I started working with newspaper when I was too broke to afford oil paint. When working with newspaper, I build up multiple layers of drawn and painted images by pasting multiple layers of newspaper on top of each other. Then I cut and tear away to reveal portions of successive layers. I have used two entire newspapers in one piece and almost an entire gallon of glue. Sometimes I get carried away with the layering. That's when it's really fun!”

[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]