Magic - color - form - passion - vision: by Jack Armstrong

Derek Culley is Europe's  (& Ireland's) most powerful modern painter.

Culley's magic being not in how art critics & collectors try & describe his work, but in the real power that the viewer experiences when in direct contact with his unequaled color and form. 

One can spend a lifetime trying to describe or critique a van Gogh, a Basquiat or a Culley.

I prefer to see all 3 of these artists work in person for an otherworldly ride into their passion and vision, alongside the unique feelings that this color and passion awaken inside all humans. 

Culley is on a journey that few artists ever experience while alive. 

Going inside of himself without limits of time or space, = "no limits," and bringing this unique  language of universal magic to all of us in the physical world, thru his art.

Culley's work belongs in Modern Museums Worldwide. It stands uniquely, alone.

Jack Armstrong, Artist. California 2017

“Derek Culley a mark maker” by Eamon Colman - (Aosdána)

I first met with Derek Culley in the late ‘70s. At that time he was looking at Celtic imagery. Moving to England he discovered the 1950s group of British painters like Terry Frost, Denis Bowen, John Hoyland to name but a few. Denis, one of the iconic British artists became a close friend and mentor to Derek. Through immersion in art and consistently looking Culley began to find his voice.

His link with street art cannot be denied. The apparent abandonment of image towards a form of graffiti like mark making can be descriptive. Culley uses the marks within the image to un settle his picture plane. He uses this technique to understand the surfact tension.

Once having lost control of the image he wreasles control back. Being brave in his use of colour, he uses colour in it’s raw form. These are not “pretty paintings” but paintings from the heart, sometimes funny often with a logical wisdom.

What makes Derek Culley a painter of note is the fact that he challenges the viewer to look at his world, a world that does not come easy. But one that comes with an aesthetic challenge. The palette of primary colour can obscure not just the aesthetic quality of the work but lead us the viewer to a world that is on one hand edgy and on the other ordered, almost meta mathematical.

To reflect back to the Irishness in Culley’s work many gaps in the knowledge of our contemporary world are still fulfilled by notions of magic and clairvoyance. These notions come from our imagination. It is this that Culley taps into, a Yin and Yang, order and fear lessness.

Through all of this exploration Culley has remained true to himself and his one constant being a true and brave mark

Eamon Colman
Artist / Aosdána - Alternative Entertainments Exhibition - Tallaght Dublin July 2008

Review by Mel Gordon

Born and educated in Dublin, Derek Culley is essentially a Celtic Artist mainly self taught and intuitive in approach. As a young man his visual imagination was stimulated by early Celtic stone carvings on exhibition at the National Museum in Dublin.

Their monumental presence and symbolic mystery had a profound and lasting effect on him, echoed later when he discovered American painting, in Motherwell's' "Elegy to The Spanish Republic " series. Also, on seeing the work of Irish painters such as G. Dillon, S. O'Colmain, A. Armstrong and C. Middleton certainly influenced Culley and awakened in him the desire and ambition to be a painter, confirmed on visits to the David Hendricks Gallery in Dublin where he saw much of Cecil Kings' work which he greatly admired. Interestingly, Culley had, in his late teens been introduced to Edmund Burke's eighteenth century treatise, "Enquiry into Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful" by friends who had, Like Burke before them, studied at Trinity College, Dublin. Though Culley admits to having difficulty with aesthetic theories, it did help him to understand artists that he instinctively admired, especially as the aforementioned Americans had been influenced by Burke's "Enquiry".

For him , Burke's distinction between "a clear expression" and "a strong expression", claiming "the former regards the understanding, the latter belongs to the passions, the one describes a thing as it is, the other describes it as it is felt" , helped him to understand his artistic identity and partly influenced the future direction of his work. Since early days when he did pavement drawings in chalk and pastels, Culley's work has been characterised more by that "strong expression" than a "clear expression" as Burke called it. It is understandable that he should feel an affinity with artists of the Northern European tradition as well as those of the New York School of the Forties and Fifties. Artists such as Munch, Ensor and Rouault are important influences as are contemporary artists such as Alan Davie. Celtic imagery and associations recur constantly in Culley 's paintings, and some can be traced to the manuscripts produced by the early Celtic monks, particularly the Book of Kells.

Often these manuscripts show the Cross composed of rich lacework of intertwined dragons or serpents, standing against or buried amongst background of even more complicated pattern, the human figure appears as strange patterns made of human forms looking much like primitive idols. In Culley's painting over the last five years there exists strong connections with such imagery though he uses strong chiaroscuro , heavy impasto , vigorous brushwork and direct expressive handling, the work is similar in the figure ground ambiguity and symbolic narrative. They are mysterious, illusive, and often haunting.

Though he has considerable knowledge and expertise in the use of computers and information technology, Culley deliberately shuns any notion of linking art and technology. His roots are in the primitive and symbolic and it is significant that he chooses as his principal means of expression one of the most traditional and direct means of communication known to man.

Mel Gordon
London 1986

Wolfson College (Oxford) Exhibition - Review by CALLY LE POER TRENCH

Derek Culley’s paintings are serious and ambitious, but not always fully resolved. He is working in that popular borderland between abstract and figurative painting, where viewers are expected to detect imagery and impart meaning for them selves. This can be a dangerous area of work, leading to paintings that are little more than ink-blot tests, unless the painter can command the direction and mood of the viewer. And to do so, a painter must first clarify his or her own thinking.

One acknowledged influence on Derek Culley’s work is Celtic art, especially the Book of Kells. ‘All that Jazz’, a large four-panel colourful, intricately-patterned, tightly woven and well constructed network of brush strokes contains open and resolved references to Celtic designs. However, in others (Gentle Escape – Gentle Girls’ or ‘Portrait of Denis’) the artists’ personal vision is blurred by unresolved influences – most obviously, to me, from Kandinsky and Pollock. And the grotesque and apparently powerful ‘Celtic Madonna’ – ‘Galicia’ and ‘Icon’ lack for me any edge of pain, - a result I feel, of the use of borrowed forms.

On the other hand, some (like ‘Killing Fields’) contain an interesting contrast between the subject matter and the overall colourful pattern, which could form another area of further exploration.

The most fully worked and moving are, I feel, ‘Dead Sea’, a swirling, heaving mass of reds, greens, and browns, and ‘Decline’ with a mossy texture, eloquent of decay and purification. Form and content unite in these and speaks with a clear individual voice. And, although very different, ‘Russell Box No.2’, with a running figure overshadowed by threatening black shapes and marks the colour of congealed blood, is both powerful and sincere. 


The Oxford Times - 1989  

Five Years of Culley - The RHK by Desmond MacAvock

Born and educated in Dublin , Derek Culley now lives in England but he is currently showing his paintings at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham under the banner of "Five Years of Culley". As the titles of these indicate they are usually concerned with large issues - 'Altar State', "The Patriot" and "Beyond the Banana Republic" are some - and the language he uses for these is basically that of Abstract Expressionism in its various manifestations through Pollock and De Kooning, adding to the mix some references to Celtic and other sources.

This leads to a deal of cross -references, and indeed even some unresolved turmoil in his canvasses, so that a painting of a flower can look very like another of the Crucifixion on the opposite wall. But if his language is a complex one, it is also one he has mastered and can on occasion use for his considerable expressive purposes. Since it is a manner which relies on a degree of impulse, his subjects can remain embedded in a welter of signs and marks. But when everything gels, the results have considerable imaginative impact and impressive power.

Desmond MacAvock
The Irish Times 1989

A review by Cyril Barrett S.J.  (Following a visit to my studio in Slough Community Centre and interviews -Campion Hall, Oxford )

There used to be a class of Irish farmer called a strong farmer. To qualify for this status the farmer had to have at least a hundred head of cattle and a son in the Church. I presume that this was evidence of ambition. Edmund Burke speaks of an artist with strong expression as distinct from clear expression. The former pertains to the passions, the latter to the understanding.

On this distinction Derek Culley would be a strong painter. He has a strong passion for strong colours and bold forms. And, if we combine this with the ambition that characterizes a strong farmer, we have a strong painter, strong in passion rather than clarity. Not that Culley 's paintings are not clear in the sense of coherent, even if a few may fall short in this respect. It is that they are not the painting of an intellectual , but rather of a man of strong feeling for his medium, colour, strong shapes and the material of paint. Ironically, Culley 's self-confessed intention in painting is what he calls the 'cult of signs'. True enough what we would call signs crop up from time to time.

In 'Cum' (1992), which I find both powerful and satisfying to the eye, there are crosses, an arrow what looks like the letter 'Z' and possibly a prohibition sign and what looks like a magnifying glass. But these are not signs in the strict sense. That is, they do not signify anything. They are just marks that in another context would have signification. Of course they cannot shed their common significance, even if Culley is using them merely as marks and shapes without giving significance to their signification. For him they are just part of a composition like any other shape that is not given a conventional signification. But yet, as I have said, they cannot shed their signifying function entirely. The juxtaposition of a cross suggestive of the Cross of Lorraine (or even of a bomber) , an arrow and the letter 'Z' may not have an ulterior significance, but they cannot shed their ordinary significance. At this point one might be tempted to appeal to an unconscious or subconscious intention.

One might want to say that Culley's psyche is saying something that he is not fully aware of: Personally I would vigorously resist this suggestion. And I am sure Burke would have done so too. In my opinion, he would have seen Culley as a passionate painter, obsessed with colours and shapes rather than messages. The most (speaking for myself) I would be prepared to concede is that Culley is happy to trade on the ambiguity of his 'signs', And why not ? Their significance, even if it idling, floats over the pictures and enriches them with an apparent mysterious significance. After all, art is, in the end, as Kant says, the freeplay of the imagination and understanding and all the more stimulating to both for that.

However it is not all free play, if play at all. I am thinking of 'Moonchild: 'Witness: 'Fortune Line: and above all 'Window for Sarajevo: I shall concentrate on the last. There are signs (crosses, 'magnifying glasses: ‘no entry' signs plastered all over the place, but the overall impression, with the heavy use of 'leading: suggests just what the title states, a stained glass window. A somber one, in which darkness predominates over light, though colour breaks through in parts. Hope? Where as I write (November, 1993) is there hope? But Derek is surely right. There must be light. Even the most barbaric war ended in 1918, after, surprisingly, only four years. To translate this into stained glass might be a task, but I think someone could manage it.

Culley's very serious works, which I have mentioned, would be easily translatable into stained glass, and would, I suggest, be a fit testimony of affectionate remembrance to the victims of mindless killing. In a sense Derek is not saying anything. He is not using signs to symbolize anything. But he is conveying strongly felt feeling through forms, some of which may be used as signs, and these feelings should be realized in endurable glass with strong leading. Here, if ever, is a strong artist.

Cyril Barrett S.J.
Campion Hall - Oxford 1993

Celtic Vision Exhibition in Cork by Hilary Pyle

"CELTIC VISION" is an important exhibition, exploring a common tradition in painters of seven European countries, and organised originally in Spain. Ireland is more generously represented than any other country, yet the exhibition is to visit only Cork, where it is presently showing at the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery. Whether much emerges of how this Celticness affects visual imagery is another matter.

There is a general tendency to try for a direct impact, with an illusiveness of meaning: though this might apply to many other traditions. Artists like Michael Sandle and Derek Culley employ Celtic imagery in their work. Culley is Irish, and with his compatriots stands out well in the whole display.

Hilary Pyle
The Irish Times 1986

Review by Sandra Gibson

Golgotha Exhibition Liverpool Cathedral
7th March – 26th April 2011

Glass and Golgotha

As you enter from the West Porch of the cathedral, there it is: Derek Culley’s Golgotha on the Nave Bridge above the Well.

Golgotha comprises fourteen paintings on a single piece of canvas 30 feet long by 59 inches high. The paintings are distinct – separated by white – but related by technique and symbolism. All have hard-edged motifs but some are stronger, darker than others. The remoteness of the work has its own impact: distance gives clarity and we get the experience of it as a whole whilst also perceiving the different bursts of movement and colour which give each panel its own mood.

If you try to read the painting from left to right as we in our culture are prone to do the four on the left have elegiac mauves; the ones on the right are more sure, more distinct and there is greater contrast. Is there a movement, therefore, to clarity, solidity, certainty?

Of course, there is no reason to presume that the work should be ‘read’ at all.

The Celtic symbolism, the bright colours and the use of black echo the stained glass windows of the cathedral. Which brings me to my point. The use of coloured glass brought light and life and inspiration to the medieval worshiper who must have marveled at the way Bible stories were brought to visual life. This is solar power at its most beautiful, transforming the density of the stone walls into rainbow light. More spectacular than the painted diptych or triptych, this was medieval TV changing as the light changed.

I don’t think paintings, however epic, angel-filled or gold-leafed they are can have the impact that stained glass windows have. Not when they share the same space. With some exceptions they can’t compete with the scale; they can’t compete with the medium. So why are paintings in such huge spaces? I think they represent the human scale of things and I think the glass represents the spiritual realm. The windows are our human endeavours to make sense of things – our paintings if you like – lifted by the light of faith that clarifies, illuminates and transforms everything - even the heftiest stones, the claggiest clay of our human existence.

Golgotha was the place of skulls: the place of Christ’s crucifixion, the scene of His most vulnerable human manifestation. I originally felt that Derek Culley’s Golgotha shouldn’t be a painting but a piece of stained glass: the jewel colours, the spatial plane, the abstraction, the religious symbolism all cry out for this. But I’m no longer sure. With the human realm and the spiritual realm it isn’t a question of competition but of aspiration.

And Derek Culley has addressed questions of context and scale before. A previous exhibition was in a casino which some would call the devil’s house! His spiritual message could not compete with the worldly sensuousness of the space, with its coloured flashing lights and temptation to excitement and unearned wealth.

But it does have a place in God’s house.

Sandra Gibson
Nerve - Promoting grassroots arts & culture on Merseyside
March 2011

Click here for website version of the article.

Article -Irish Post by Fiona Audley

"Putting Tallaght back on the cultural map"

When Merseyside artist Derek Culley realised his hometown of Tallaght in Co Dublin was more famous for its Domino’s Pizza branch than its rich cultural heritage he was spurred into action.

The Dubliner, now based in Birkdale, near Southport, spent a year creating a series of works depicting the ‘great history’ of Tallaght, entitled Tamh Lacht – The Wall.

He explained: “In 2006 Tallaght achieved a place in history with a record number of Domino’s Pizza’s sold in a day worldwide by Domino’s in The Square.

“Yet the rich history of Tallaght remains largely unappreciated by its residents and Dublin in general.

“It is almost as though a wall exists between the present and the past, yet I have always been fascinated by the history of Tallaght.”

Culley’s attempt to reinstate the true highlights of the historic town comes to fruition in a vast body of work currently on display in the Rua Red gallery at Tallaght’s South Dublin Arts Centre.

Tamh Lacht boasts a collection of 14 individual panels in black, white, greys and earth red. It is complemented by Culley’s separate piece, Golgotha – The Place of the Skull, which looms large on the opposite wall in Gallery 1.

This more colourful image he created on a single piece of canvas measuring 30ft by 59inches and depicts the 14 Stations of the Cross.

Irish musician and broadcaster Cormac de Barra opened Culley’s acclaimed exhibition in Tallaght this month. The artist told us more of his inspiration.

“There is far more to Tallaght’s true great history than the Domino’s achievement.

“It’s mythology, for example, with the Partholonians colony being killed by a plague and giving rise to the name Tamh (plague) Lacht (grave-monument) or the proven existence and importance of the Monastery established by St. Maelruain who gave us “The Rule of St. Maelrúain for the Céli Dé” and its place in European and Irish Monastic History.

“St. Maelruain was the outstanding figure in the eighth-century reform of Celtic monasticism, and Tallaght was its most important centre.

“This history has informed my series of paintings on Tallaght – South West Dublin’s historical gem which the Irish Tourist Board has forgotten.”

For further information about the artist or the exhibition visit or

The Tamh Lacht exhibition runs at Rua Red until July 30, curated by Alternative

Fiona Audley
The Irish Post
July 2011

Click here for PDF version of the article.