The oeniric world of John Derian

How many times have you come along a horse painting in your life? Think about it. It was probably more than once, because the truth is that paintings of horses are among the most common artworks in history. Indeed equine art goes straight back to 30,000 years before the birth of Christ, when a sculptor was carving a horse amulet in bone. History clearly shows this wonderful animal has intrigued the artist as much as the horseman, from prehistory to the twenty first century, delivering a fascinating visual homage to our most unique companion, in times of war and peace alike. No wonder the John Derian Picture Book (Artisan Books; October 4, 2016;) – a curated collection of nearly three hundred of Derian’s best-loved images from his more than thirty years of work – features several historical prints of the horse.

The John Derian picture book cover

“Excerpted from John Derian Picture Book by John Derian (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Stephen Johnson.”

John Derian, the artist and designer behind the world-famous John Derian Company, is renowned for transforming printed images from the past into objects of timeless fascination. In doing so he transports the viewer to another world. Drawing on his remarkable eye and boundless curiosity, he employs the forgotten art of decoupage – cutting and gluing images under glass – as a kind of alchemy to create one-of-a-kind plates, paperweights, and other home goods whose visual impact stirs emotion and inspires longing. Poring over this marvellous coffee table book is like following the artist into a dusty corner of an antique bookstore and uncovering a treasure.

Indeed the story behind this collection of Derian’s best-loved images has something truly oneiric on its own. In 1983, while combing through a flea market in Salem, Massachusetts, the young artist happened upon a box of nineteenth-century trouvailles, two oversized and remarkable, intensely colored prints that unleashed an obsessive curiosity. Had these prints come from books? How could the color be so vivid? That curiosity led him on a lifelong search for hand-colored engravings of flowers and fruits, beautiful memorabilia and last but not least fantastic lithographs of animals. Most of the images used come from eighteenth- and nineteenth century books that were originally created for instructive purpose. Naturgeschichte in Bildern by Friedrich Strack (Germany 1828) for example, delivers the horse aficionado the beautiful ‘Jumping Horse’ featured as cover for this post and two more illustrations of posing horses straight form the 18th century.

For the foreword, Derian reached out to someone, who contrary to what we may think, is not spending her days shopping, but rather loves letting go to her more profound weaknesses: ‘With his dazzlingly original eye, John Derian has made the arcane practice of decoupage as relevant to today as taking a selfie. His deep curiosity about life speaks to our own . . . because what he creates speaks to all of our imaginings and longings. His objects are loaded with memory, association, and emotional investment. If anything is more worthy of inclusion in our homes, I’ve yet to think of it,’ writes the Vogue editor-in-chief and Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour.

“Excerpted from John Derian Picture Book by John Derian (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Stephen Johnson.”

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