Artists in Focus: Derek Chambers

Chambers: Bear

Derek Chambers was born in Ilford 1937. In 1952 he started work as a messenger in a London advertising agency and worked as a creative consultant and graphic designer until 1994, when he moved to Aldeburgh, Suffolk, to concentrate on drawing and painting. Derek has had several one-man shows in Aldeburgh and in 2008 shared a portrait exhibition with his friend Peter Polaine. His work has been exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions, The Mall Galleries, The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, The Royal Society of Marine Artists and The Royal Society Of Portrait Painters, among many others. 

You might remember that I bought my first piece of art at last year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: Sue Cave’s woodcut How Still It Is…. It was the spur for a sudden flurry of woodcut-buying when I discovered the equally wonderful printmakers Sue Woollatt and Sue Scullard. I’d never imagined that, with my very modest budget, I could afford to buy art; and my prints, now framed and hanging, never cease to make me happy. This year I returned to the Royal Academy on a hunt for further treasures. I had a clear image in my mind of what I wanted: quite a small, intricate woodcut to match the style of those I already have (I have a miniaturist tendency with woodcuts), preferably with some kind of historical or mythological subject. What happened, of course, was that I saw something quite different across a crowded room, fell in love immediately, and all my specifications went out of the window.

The print I saw was Derek Chambers’s Bear, Ipswich Museum (etching and wood type, 25 x 25 cm.), a wonderfully textural print in which the softness of the etched line perfectly matches the furry amiability of the bear himself. I loved everything about it: the viewpoint, the strong black border, the evocative smokiness of the execution… and it reminded me very strongly of something that I couldn’t put my finger on (only now, after corresponding with Derek, do I realise that it was William Nicholson). Plus, the big red ‘B’ in the upper corner made the print look like something out of a very beautiful and sophisticated children’s alphabet book, and I’m just a child at heart.

The Bear was one of two submissions by Derek in the Summer Exhibition; the other, in the same style, was a Rhino, but I’m afraid that once I’d seen the Bear, the Rhino didn’t get a look-in. To cut a long story short, I wasn’t able to buy the Bear at the Exhibition, but this gave me the opportunity to get in touch with Derek himself and to see some other examples of his paintings and prints. I was struck by the fact that the Bear and Rhino were rather different in style from the rest of his art, and so I asked if he could tell me a bit more about the inspiration behind them:

I’ve always loved the work of William Nicholson. In the 1890’s he produced an alphabet series of woodcuts, which later were repeated as lithographs. A couple of years ago I started doing some drawings at the Ipswich Museum which houses a wonderful Victorian collection of stuffed animals and birds. So in homage to Nicholson I thought I would start my own alphabet based just on the collection at Ipswich. As you know, ‘B’ & ‘R’ ( the Rhino is the most iconic specimen they have), got into the Academy. ‘F’ (Fox) is the only other one which is finished, and which I am happy with. I am currently working on ‘A’, ‘M’, ‘O’, ‘V’, ‘W’ and ‘Z’. ‘N’ is a particularly hard animal to find!

Derek has very kindly sent me images of the preparatory drawing for the Bear and the finished Fox, which looks absolutely splendid. I hope he won’t mind me sharing them here as well, because I hope they’ll appeal to you just as much as they do to me. I’ve rather cheekily included an image of the Rhino from the Summer Exhibition too, via his page on the Sudbourne Printmakers website. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with for the rest of the series – and I can’t help wondering whether O might be for Owl (I have a bit of a thing about owls)… but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see!* If you would like to find out more about Derek’s prints, or to ask about buying any of them, please just drop me an email and I would be very happy to put you in touch with him.

Find out more about Derek’s prints

* It was O for Otter, actually, but the Otter looks rather adorable too.

‘Artists in Focus’ is a series in which I find out a little more about the inspiration and techniques of artists whose work I’ve bought, or who have captured my imagination in some way. All images in these posts are copyright of the artist and please do not reuse them without the artist’s permission. If you would like to use them, get in touch with me by email and I can put you in contact.

Chambers: Bear

Derek Chambers, Bear, Ipswich Museum, preparatory drawing for the finished print © Derek Chambers

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