Keenan Derby: Secrets of the Sea

Keenan Derby’s abstract paintings develop in a carefully negotiated discourse between formation and collapse. What begins as a clearly articulated under-drawing, structured by a grid, undergoes multiple transformations, alternately concealing and rediscovering its original composition. The artwork is an amalgamation of the artist’s initial vision and the unpredictability of the paint itself, which acts an agent in its own application.

Growing up in a household of biologists, Derby traveled through diverse environments, learning to view the world with a scientist’s sense of observation and wonder. He sees nature as an endless stretch of raw material to inform his artwork, its inherent cycles of destruction and renewal representative of the impermanence of all forms. The work presented in Secrets of the Sea explores this concept through the theme of water and tides. Derby’s process breaks apart and unravels familiar images, like the sea picking away at the coast with time. His choice of medium—paint turned textural by the incorporation of sand—lends itself to this disintegration, turning an otherwise smooth line or shape into a corrugated ripple.

Installation view of  Secrets of the Sea

Installation view of Secrets of the Sea

Secrets of the Sea, Derby's exhibition opening April 7th, 2017, was inspired by a 17th century depiction of a Dutch whaling expedition painted on ceramic tiles, reproduced in an eponymous issue of Reader’s Digest. The ceramic tiles form a grid not unlike the ones Derby uses in his own work. Combined with the natural degradation of the materials, they dismantle the scene. Drawn to the intersecting lines and and luminous seascape colors, Derby used fragments of this piece as a basis for his under-drawings for the series.

The finished work is only suggestive of its source material, deconstructed through layers of paint and sand. The coarse topography of each painting is reminiscent of decomposed organic material, like mossy, mildewed wood. The apparition of a mast or hull lingers in certain lines, cracks and whorls allude to stormy skies and choppy seas. Derby leaves no surface undisturbed. The irregular planes and mottled colors give every piece the impression of perpetual motion.

Secrets of the Sea opens on Friday, April 7th, 2017. There will be an opening reception from 5 – 9 pm.

Keenan Derby in front of  Grizzly,  2015.

Keenan Derby in front of Grizzly, 2015.

Keenan Derby's studio in Los Angeles, CA Large painting:  Wave Maker  (2016

Keenan Derby's studio in Los Angeles, CA
Large painting: Wave Maker (2016

Wave Maker  2016 Acrylic and sand on canvas 59 x 43 inches

Wave Maker
Acrylic and sand on canvas
59 x 43 inches


Keenan Derby lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He received his MFA from Boston University and his BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He has exhibited in galleries nationally, including Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, CA, and Trestle Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, and at the 2017 Art Market San Francisco art fair. His work is included in a number of private collections across the country.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017: Puloma Ghosh