Painting Beyond The Canvas

Story by Michael Seguin

For some artists, a canvas can be claustrophobic. David Derkatz is a member of Windsor’s growing art community. A full-time painter for the last five years, David specializes in producing art on a grand scale.

“I specialize in large exterior murals,” David explains. “I paint large things.”

David’s artistic pursuits began in high school, with a can of spray paint.

“I got started with graffiti,” David states. “I watched my brother’s friend spray painting
as a kid, and it caught my eye. From there, I started noticing street art around town. I got bit by the ‘graffiti bug,’ as they would say. From there, I kind of just dove into it.”

For David, who was quiet throughout all of high school, graffiti allowed him to adopt a louder, bolder alter ego: DERKZ.

Artist David Derkatz, better known as DERKZ, creates a mural painted for the MH100 Program At-risk Youth Center located at Windsor Waterworld. Photo by Mike Pajax.

“Getting into graffiti and visual art and stuff like that really gave me a name in the graffiti culture,” DERKZ explains. “People don’t know who you are, but they know your work. I thought that was super interesting. I think that’s why I connected to it. And then also the rush and adrenaline that comes with creating these large, exciting works of art.”

For a few years, DERKZ worked as a clandestine street artist. As time went on, and DERKZ’s skill began to improve, he began experimenting with murals.

After dropping out of St. Clair College’s Graphic Design program, DERKZ’s life underwent a radical shift as he became enraptured by the siren call of Toronto’s artistic community.

“I dropped out of college and moved to Toronto for a few years,” DERKZ states. “Windsor will always be my home. It has such a character to it. But Toronto is a different animal. It has such a thriving feel. The energy there is so different. It’s very inspiring.”

It was during this period in his life that DERKZ decided to pursue his passion full-time. “At the beginning stages of my time in Toronto, I was serving at a restaurant to make money,” DERKZ recalls. “But, I didn’t want to do that anymore. So, after I got laid off for a summer and a winter I decided to take art seriously again. I didn’t want to work anywhere else so I just pursued art full-time from there. I did a lot of canvas work for galleries and stuff. I sold a lot of commissioned pieces. I started making a living from it. And I haven’t really looked back since.”

“Enlightenment” located at 1 Maiden Lane, Windsor, ON.

After years of honing his talents in Toronto, DERKZ returned to Windsor in 2017. Since then, he has continued to develop his brand and his business as DERKZ Graffiti & Fine-Art. “A lot of people hire me for these larger murals, or I get commissioned through galleries or fine art canvas work,” DERKZ explains. “I do private sales.”

While DERKZ has ventured into various forms of fine art, his main area of expertise continues to be murals.

“I want to stay rooted to my foundation—graffiti and spray paint,” DERKZ explains. “I just like being at the wall. You’re not tied down to this little canvas sitting in front of you. You’re on the wall. You’re exuding a lot more energy.”

Murals, DERKZ explains, offer a much grander, more expressive scope free from the boundaries of a canvas.

“There’s a limit on canvas work or drawing,” DERKZ states. “You’re kind of stationed in one place. Whereas with street art and graffiti, you use your whole body on the wall. You’re not limited to scale. You’re more involved, more immersed in the art. You become part of the wall. When you’re doing a long stroke, it’s a more dynamic movement. It’s never stagnant.”

However, while DERKZ’s favourite pieces tend to be large scale, he maintains a soft spot for human faces.

“I love doing portraits,” DERKZ states. “They bring me a lot of joy. There’s something about painting humans that I love, as opposed to non-organic things. I’ve always found human connection interesting. How you can meet someone and then run into them again later in life. So, I tend to paint faces a lot.”

“Reborn” 4’x7’ Spray paint on Canvas.

And aside from the human connection, DERKZ maintains a strong emotional connection with all of his work.

“Every piece I paint becomes my favourite,” DERKZ admits. “I love every piece I do, until the next one. And then that one becomes my favourite. You hone in your skills a little bit more each time you paint. There’s a bunch of pieces that stay with me. But any large portrait I paint that gets people’s attention brings me a lot of joy.”

And aside from joy, DERKZ’s story is one of breathtaking perseverance.

“I’d been doing graffiti for so long,” DERKZ states. “When it came time to make that transition, it felt natural to stick to art and try to monetize it. So, it wasn’t hard to make that leap. But I could see how it would be hard for others though. They worry about security. That they might not have a lot of money. And there are a lot of ups and downs. There were plenty of times when I didn’t have enough money for rent or food in the fridge. It was tough. But I stuck with it.”

DERKZ credits the bulk of his success to his vast network of supporters.

“My support system is key,” DERKZ states. “In everything. My friends and family have always supported me and my art. A lot of the times when I do paint, I’ll think it looks like trash and get stuck in my own head. Even now, with my girlfriend Sarah, every canvas or wall I paint, every hour I’m just like, ‘Oh, does it look good? What about now?’ Having her and that support system around you pushes you further. I’m super lucky to have that. A lot of artists don’t. It’s an isolating discipline. It can just be you sitting in a dark room painting for hours on end.”

However, working as a professional artist brings along with it a slew of new challenges. Primarily, finding a way to juggle both art and commerce.

“Contention” 28’x100’ spray paint mural 53 Pitt St E, Windsor, ON.

“I find the business side of it to be the hardest part,” DERKZ explains. “I realized halfway through my artistic career how important marketing and business are. And unfortunately, I’m the least
business-savvy person out there. I hate numbers. I just want to paint. But you have to find a balance as an artist and an entrepreneur. That’s what I’m working on right now. Figuring out what’s important on that side and what’s important on this side.”

DERKZ Graffiti & Fine-Art offers a wide range of commissioned services. His work has taken him all over Canada and internationally into the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Notably, DERKZ was hired to plaster graffiti and murals across two large mansions in Las Vegas and California.

And for DERKZ, that sense of scale remains at the forefront.

“The bigger the wall the better for me!” DERKZ laughs.

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