Friday, March 25, 2011


Derrick Clifton has crammed a lot into forty, short years. He’s worked security for celebrity actors, celebrity music stars, celebrity politicians, celebrity social activists, corporations. He’s driven church buses, school buses, limos, party buses. He’s taught public school, private school, alternative school, four state custody programs for troubled youth. He’s worked at an auto parts store, at a retail chain, at numerous construction businesses. He’s owned a restaurant, landscaping company, art business. 37 distinctly different jobs in 40 years, never having been fired or laid off.


His eclectic work background makes Derrick quite the kaleidoscope. My business partner at Stone Table, THEPOMOSCHOOL, in Franklin, Tennessee, even I have a hard time defining him. Turn Derrick “this” way, and he’s the eloquent art teacher explaining a concept of shading or a theory of proportions. Turn Derrick “that” way, and he’s a literature teacher giving a dull paragraph meaning by multifarious analogies drawn from personal experience. Turn Derrick another way, and he’s the counselor advising a student step-by-step on how she can avoid a potentially ugly situation, or he’s the disciplinarian telling a student exactly what he is going to do if he wants to remain in the classroom. Turn him yet another way and he is the entertaining storyteller. And here we find the forensic quality behind the artist: encounters with actual people.

For example, Derrick, hailing from Tennessee, decided to attend American Baptist College, an all-Black seminary, in Nashville. Being one of the only white men in the school, he bore up under harassment rather well: anywhere from face-to-face confrontations with unfriendly students to notes left on his car windshield insisting he did not belong. Once Derrick volunteered with several men from the college to help with relief in Miami after Hurricane Andrew. Stopping over en route in Atlanta at the Civil Rights Museum, they found Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King there for the day. Rosa Parks, intuitively singling Derrick out as the only minority whispered to him “How’s everybody treating you?” Country-boy honest, Derrick replied “OK." Then he added "But they made me ride in the back of the van all the way down here.” Rosa looked at him. She grinned. She broke into a smile. Then she burst out into laughter. “I know just how feel!”

Dozens of anecdotal stories like these either from personal experience or special, secondary sources provide Derrick special insight into the subjects of his charcoal portraits. Stone Table is his studio. Time and again I have had the distinct pleasure of coming to school early in the morning only to find Elvis, Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ray, or Janis Joplin breaking out of the canvas, further developed, further along than the day before. And Derrick does them the kind of justice I haven’t seen in an artist. I have seen him roll back hours of work by chalking over if he felt he was not portraying the artist well. It is only with a high level of satisfaction that Derrick can finish a piece of art, calling it "friend."

What is interesting is that Derrick realized his knack for art "late" in life, not drawing his first portrait until age 35! Amongst the highest of his accomplishments is a portrait of a friend's daughter that hung in Smithsonian, and he has a Johnny Cash pending for the Ryman. What I like about Derrick is that he is open to business for EVERYONE. Find him on FACEBOOK at his page DERRICK CLIFTON ART. Also, keep a lookout for his web page He might just chalk you in a light you never before considered.

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