“1961” Digital Print on Archival Paper with Overlying Enamel and Oil Paint. 60 × 75 × 0.3 cm (23X30″)

Sophie Derrick came up with a swirling, slathering, painterly style that can’t fail to impress. For one, they’re gorgeous. And then if you are the sort of person that can look enthralled at thick swatches of mixed paint – I am – Sophie takes the cake for rich impasto, some of it illusionistic, and some physical.


As far as I can make out just by looking at them, she paints a backdrop; paints her face in front of it; photographs it; prints it out; and then paints over that (and then it gets photographed again). As a gimmick it’s rather brilliant. because the end results work spectacularly well as prints, or as individual, irreplicable pieces = maximal sales potential.

Thunderean Nobility No.3
Thunderean Nobility No.3

Her influences doubtlessly include Frank Helmut Auerbach (sorry, just discovered his middle name was Helmut, and, uh, I think that’s charming), the lord high applicator of impasto paint; Francis Bacon; Veruschka (her body painting), and Gerhard Richter (for his painted over photographs).

“Head of J. Y. M.” by Frank Auerbach. 1978. Oil on canvas, 61 x 66 cm. Oh my God! Click to see greater detail.

Above you can see an amazing painting by Auerbach, in which he’s used thick paint and broad strokes not to illustrate a portrait, but to create it almost completely with incidental textures. The result is not really a portrait of a flesh and bone person, but the realization of a paint/person entity, existing in an alternative dimension of paint.

“JYM1”, by Frank Auerbach. 1981. Oil on board, 73.2 x 68.2 cm. Paint man cometh! Wait, that’s paint woman, isn’t it?

Above is another portrait by Auerbach. I used to think Auerbach was a second-rate Francis Bacon who overindulged in thick paint and Expressionism, and lacked Bacon’s more sophisticated incorporation of modern, indoor, physical environments and contexts. But in exultant images such as this Auerbach achieves something different from Bacon, which has more plasticity, and crosses a boundary from being painterly depictions of people into being incarnations of painterly people. I look at this image and think, “Paint man cometh!” I’m pretty confident Sophie Derrick was inspired by this same exuberant brush work. Below are photographs/body paintings of the German supermodel, actress, and artist, Veruschka von Lehndorff, though at least equal credit should probably go to Holger Trülzsch, who did the painting and photography.

Veruschka body painting.

In these famous images Veruschka blends almost seamlessly into the colorfully textured backgrounds. Evidence of their success is that when I showed my copy of  a book of these images to my drawing teacher, he erroneously dismissed them as “double exposures”.

Veruschka 2
Another Veruschka body painting.

There’s much more to these than just the equivalent of a painted double exposure, because the figure becomes both physical and immaterial, and appears trapped, having been molded into her environment (and she literally was trapped standing there covered with paint). She has both a fixity and a translucence that seems a bit tragic. But whatever else they are, they’re undeniably beautiful.

Veruschka 2
Another exquisite photograph of painted Veruschka.

Derrick must have been influenced by this work, in which a painted head is photographed against a painted backdrop. But she added another dimension, which is painting over the resulting image. Overpainting photographs is a technique which Gerhard Richter probably used best.

Untitled (4 March 03), 2003
“Untitled (4 March 03), 2003”, by Gerhard Richter.

Above is just a sensational painted-over photo by Richter. The paint matches the colors of the background of the photo, and particularly the bit of waves we see on the middle right of the image, and thus creates the impression of a large, paint swatch/wave obscuring the two people. Somehow this helps emphasize the sense of a timeless moment.

“Untitled (4.12.06), 2006”, by Gerhard Richter.

The piece above shows Richter himself in the photo, and the highly articulated texture of the paint, and the purity of the pigment that is brighter or more clear than the photo beneath it, suggests a specificity of an underlying essence like a Platonic form. This coupled with the specificity of the photo lend the image a double immediacy: the mechanically captured instant in an image, and the implacably present physical texture of the paint.

Nicely Browned Big #2
Nicely Browned Big #2

Sophie Derrick’s work appears to have aspects of all of these artists’ approaches, and if she’s not influenced by them directly, it’s probably indirectly via others who have. While her works have a strong and vibrant initial impression, they don’t have the same lasting power for me as the best works of Auerbach, or Bacon. There is a risk of her golden technique becoming too much of a gimmick, and the rich impasto texture and bright colors can tend to cake frosting, or glamour.

Little Shilpa. Is that ever beautiful. The colors seem like something out of a glamour magazine, but it’s still beautiful.

There is room to infuse more mood, and for the handling of paint to not incidentally convey a state of being, but deliberately portray her state of being. As of yet, there’s no real need for her to be the person in the painting/photograph, and no real need to grapple with composition, or subject matter. Possible avenues of further exploration include painting over objects or props (a Gorilla costume head!), and more than one; working with a landscape format; and having a background that isn’t just a flat color, but a landscape, cityscape, freeway underpass… There is a lot of potential in her art, and I hope to see her evolve something that is already rich and beautiful into something more profound (which would be a general trajectory of artists, going back to Rembrandt, and excluding Renoir and his vapid nudes). Though, you can’t go too wrong with sheer beauty, and it is refreshing to see painted heads not be the bloody things most men would make (including Olivier de Sagazan, and probably me). Besides which, many an artist has made a whole career out of far less range.

Sophie and her art.
Sophie Derrick and her art on display. Click to go to photo source.

Another artist you might be interested is Andrew Newton, who I’ve written about here.

“Study of Ade” by Andrew Newton

~ Ends, Coming soon, an artist who uses similar techniques, but to much different ends, Olivier de Sagazan.

Olivier de Sagazan

You may also enjoy these two in particular by me. In the Creature below there are several large brush strokes (digitally created) that were directly inspired by Sophie Derrick’s paintings!

Awakening Upon Death of the Bride of the Creature
Awakening Upon Death of the Bride of the Creature


Blossoming of the Ripened Mind
Blossoming of the Ripened Mind

4 replies on “Sophie Derrick: Exhilarating Expressionist Impasto Paintings

    1. Just looked him up. Seems interesting. My internet connection sucks at the moment, so will investigate more later. They have overlap, and ultimately spring from the same source, but the results are nevertheless so different. Micallef’s painting also looks a lot like some Glenn Brown. Thanks for bringing him to my attention.


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