Though his demeanor may suggest otherwise, Derrick Hodgson is the artist behind some of the most vivid and surreal pieces of artwork. Born and raised in the small farm town of Kettleby, Ontario, Hodgson left his rural environment to embrace the big city lifestyle of Toronto. Adopting the hectic culture and artwork of his new home, he developed a style of artistry that combines the essence of graffiti tags with the landscape and sensibilities of a Saturday morning cartoon.
Traveling the world to showcase his artwork, his vast portfolio includes working with Zune, Sony, and Nintendo. Derrick Hodgson sits down with Format to discuss his work, his involvement with Magic Pony gallery, and the evolution of his craft.
“If you don’t look into your past work, you are almost doing yourself an injustice.”
Format: Explain what you and Mad Real do.
Derrick Hodgson: Mad Real is simply the name for my World Wide Web domain. I had a friend put together my website. We got pretty blazed while listening to an old DJ Crush album. One of the tracks asks this graffiti artist the question “What’s the future going to be? Mad real.” I didn’t take much from that except for what I do is paint and draw my reality and the ether that I flow through. It just so happens that the reality is mania-ridden, mental, and out there, so that phrase just works.
Format: How did you get your start in your line of work?
Derrick Hodgson: I was born and bred in a little rural community. My father was a civil engineer and my mother was a public school teacher. She was really into painting and drawing. Subsequently, me and all my brothers were encouraged to be involved in art. That aspect was always partial to my childhood, and after leaving the high school womb, I thought it would be interesting to pursue a career in the arts.
Format: Tell me about the Magic Pony gallery and your involvement with them.
Derrick Hodgson: In early 2000, I was somewhat at the forefront of the whole vinyl toy movement as far as Canadian artists go, simply because I was working on those projects down in New York. I was doing a mural with a couple of other artists down in the market and these kids walk by who recognized my work. It turned out they were Steve and Kristen who run the gallery. Through time our relationship developed and eventually I would put on a show at their place. The fact that it’s a retail space, it has the perfect blend of gallery art without the stoic feel of the established art galleries.
Format: You put on a showcase with them for the last couple of years; are we going to see one this year?
Derrick Hodgson: No. I don’t even have anything booked in Toronto for the next year. The world is a pretty small but big place and I’m excited to do more work abroad. With that said, if I were to do a show in Toronto, it will probably be with them.
Format: Tell us about My Mania. It’s been a couple of years since it has been released. How have you reflected on that project?
Derrick Hodgson: The book was connected to the Magic Pony in that it was a way to help them launch their new space. It did very well, and I’m very happy with it. As a promotional tool, it was definitely effective; it sold well, and you can still Google and read about it. The simple fact that people actually bought it was something that got me hyper-stoked. It was a great way to bookmark my career and I hope there’s more to come.
Format: A lot of artists feel like their most recent work is their best work. Do you agree?
Derrick Hodgson: Definitely; I think it’s innate in everyone. From just waking up in the morning to having a coffee, it’s almost a way of contemplating who we are as people.
Format: In that case, how do you put into perspective your older work in respect to what you’ve most recently done?
Derrick Hodgson: That’s the thing I love about monograms and retrospective shows. It’s a scope into the way that a person has grown as an artist and how they put themselves out there to be observed. I always look to my past work. Sometimes I might feel that that stuff is better than where I am now. It’s a way of acknowledging that growth. If you don’t look into your past work, I feel you are almost doing yourself an injustice.
Format: Your artwork is heavy in the cartoon, graffiti, vivid, and surreal style that’s very synonymous with the urban, big city lifestyle. How did you develop that style considering you grew up in rural farm life?
Derrick Hodgson: When I came to the city, I was a big, open, blank slate. I’m not high-brow and just seeing the artwork in the city and the culture the comes with that, I was drawn into it. I was really looking towards the quick tagging and adapting it into the way that I held the pencil and the pen as I understood at the time. I started developing characters in that flat linear style that I became very comfortable with. I love characters and interaction, and I see my characters as toys and figures in my own visual language. I wouldn’t say I gravitated to that style because of the contrast of art from how I grew up, but it’s definitely along the lines of the adage of, “It’s not where you are from, but where you are at.”
Format: You have traveled the world showcasing your artwork. Where have you been that has been most receptive of your work?
Derrick Hodgson: I love Tokyo. The shows I’ve done there have been really fun. The Japanese people and culture is very receptive of icons and cute characters. They have a logo for almost everything. The logos for the police are these little elf dudes carrying a nightstick. The dentist is a sun with shining teeth. It’s a huge city, and they have the logos to parlay quick and digestible information.
Format: You have had your work featured on the Nintendo Wii and the Zune. What canvas do you enjoy working with the most?
Derrick Hodgson: Honestly, I really just enjoy having my work on a blank, white gallery where it’s like my work is in a Petri dish and it is growing and under a microscope. My work in the commercial side is great because I can live off that, but the commerce of those products will continue to thrive whether or not my work is on there. The supreme bonus of those commercial gigs–and I’m picky with what commercial gigs I do–is that it gets out to a wider audience. The commercial work, while is fun, is a means to the end. My preference is always to work in the white wall gallery.
More Info: http://www.madreal.com/