Meet the Artist: Derek Besant

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Derek Michael Besant

Derek Michael Besant

Derek Besant is an award winning Calgary-based and internationally shown Canadian artist. He has a rich local history and deep ties to the Calgary community, earning his BFA Honours from the University of Calgary, working as an Exhibitions Designer at The Glenbow Museum and has been teaching in the Drawing / Fine Arts Department at Alberta College of Art and Design for the past thirty years.

His public art can be seen all over Canada but Calgarians will best recognize his extensive public works including HOMAGE at Mount Royal University (iconic six-metre tall balancing-chairs), and the temporary installation of I AM THE RIVER depicting 50 Calgarians submerged into the waters of the Bow.

We shared a few details of Derek’s ‘Looking + Seeing’ proposal for the Contemporary Main Entrance over on the blog last week but we wanted to pick his brain so we asked him a few questions to get to know him better:

Q: What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?

A: I work with ink, charcoal, photography, metals, glass.

Themes follow Sleep / Migration / Drowning / Touch / Facial Expression / Hidden Narratives / Motion & Stillness…

Working in Advanced Technologies I often incorporate sound into my exhibitions or art installations.  Text fragments.  Collaborations.

My work sometimes feels like Alchemy.  I go where the work takes me…

Q: What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?

A:  “Falling Awake” by Alice Oswald / “Aftermath” by Jörn Vanhöfen / “Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer” by Arthur Lubow

The bridge between poetry, architecture, documentary inform my approaches to all of my work.

Q: What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?

A: Be Careful What You Wish For. I set out to develop a network between international curators, writers, composers, fimmakers, other artists, museums, architects, city planners, muses, collectors… and that matrix now keeps me very busy professionally. It is difficult not to get excited working with these people.

Q: What would you say was biggest achievement or milestone to date?

A: Major exhibitions in London UK 1987 / Toronto 2000 / Vienna 2010 / Paris 2012 all have their moments, but doing the video on Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s Surrounded Islands Project for Miami in 1983 and having it featured at the 1985 Tokyo Video Festival, well… that’s hard to beat!

Q: What inspired you to submit a proposal? Where did you draw your conceptual inspiration from? 

A: I was attracted by the site, and picked the more difficult areas to transform into an “experience for viewers” My subject is the people who live and work in the demographic area. So I reflect them back to themselves in a way that they might never have seen themselves before.

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