Derm is one of the early pioneers of Scottish graffiti whose wildstyle work in the mid-80s was just the beginning of his experimentation with and abstraction of letterforms. A self-described “renegade artist,” Derm is based in Edinburgh, a zero tolerance on graffitti city. Appropriately, one of his recurring motifs is CCTV surveillance. His training in graphic design and typography are evident in everything he does; commercial logos, aerosol burners, vector-based illustration, metal sculpture. Derm is a member of the Artists of Change (A.o.C.) creative collective, which includes Jaybo Monk, KofieOne, and Remi/Rough. The crew has been altering and impacting space since 2006.
The earliest work in the vault of Derm’s blog is “a small selection of letterform and typographical images” from the 1990s. Here is what you will notice, each burner is unique. Derm is an innovator who recreates his visual identity hundreds of times for what appears to be the sheer enjoyment of pushing type to its limits, sometimes reducing it to a piercing series of lines or elongated arcs of aerosol. As a graphic designer he works with shapes, rules, and letterforms regularly, nuancing them to express his clients’ ambitions. As a graffiti artist he finds his public canvasses across the globe and then nuances shapes, rules, and letterforms based on the spot’s surface texture, architectural lines, and contextual cues.
His work with the Agents of Change in the award-winning Ghostvillage Project exemplifies this. Six members of the collective were given free reign to paint anywhere in an abandoned village in the west of Scotland. The concrete brutalist-style buildings had been constructed to house oil workers in the 1970s, but the plan was scrapped, leaving the village uninhabited and decaying. Derm stated that the group’s intent was to “populate the ghostvillage with the art and characters that it deserved.” They spent three days in this remote location allowing its harsh structures, unfinished history, and surrounding landscape to influence the creative process. Derm’s angular, thin encryptions span walls, playing off the grid of exterior concrete bricks or interior white tiles and using a palette that borrows from the green of surrounding grasses and plants. In other spots, he introduces dynamic red linear shapes to direct the eye through an opening in the concrete to a view of the sea. Throughout the site he has placed groupings of hash marks, low to the ground or high on sitelines, like hobo markings conveying critical information. Someone has gone here before you. The village is resuscitated.
Encryptions and code appear regularly in Derm’s work. A 2009 series called Focal Range featured silkscreens of surveillance cameras sometimes overlaying longitude and latitude grids, sometimes surrounded by concentric circles indicating the radius of observance. These grids and circles migrate into future pieces, pairing with numerals as shorthand perhaps for coordinates, time codes, or chemical elements. This notation brings specificity to abstraction; a polished steel plaque is spraypainted with blue monochromatic bands coupled with letters and numbers. We can now begin to use these clues to decode these small sections of Derm’s schematic.
Derm’s most reductionist work has simple descriptions like, “Concrete and colour” and “Three colours and rust.” This grouping best displays his interest in geometric abstraction, his crush on color, and his experimentation with texture. It’s Derm’s ability to breathe life into the banal that is captivating. A rust-encrusted wall is the most suitable canvas for Derm to lay down parallel bands in the complimentary colors of cobalt, neon green, and white.
2012: Unit 44, Melbourne Sneaker Project, Melbourne. 2011: Rudimentary Perfection (the first Graffuturist exhibition), Recoat Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland. 2010: Agents of Change/Ghost Mews Project, Mews42 Gallery, London; Agents of Change, Future Everything art festival, Manchester; Amnesty International Urban Art Exhibition, group show, C Soco Urban Garden, Edinburgh, Scotland; Au Secours, Art for Haiti, Blackall Studios, group show, London. 2009: Focal Range, Pageant, solo exhibition, Edinburgh, Scotland. 2008: Nancy Victor Christmas Show, Nancy Victor Gallery, London. 2006: Flesh Gallery, Rouge exhibition, group show, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Sources: Information and texts compiled by Karla Henrick from agents-of-change.co.uk; dermographix.blogspot.com; Scottishgraffiti.com, and urbanrealm.com