Shearer Art Building 208
300 North Broadway
Lexington, KY 40508-1797
Phone: (859) 233-8115
e-mail Jonathan Derrick Riley
“You can’t teach the arts if you don’t make art. My heart’s in my own work. If I don’t produce more than my students, I feel guilty.”
Many centuries ago, Native Americans living in the area that is now Nicholasville, Ky., put a curse on an ancient burial ground. The consequences are awful for any who dare disturb it: a giant, one-eyed gorilla will come out of a tree and kill all the offender’s pigs!
That tale was part of a 32-foot-long group of linoleum-cut prints produced by Derrick Riley titled “Kentucky Monster Mash.” Riley heard the story and became interested in other Kentucky myths and folklore. That fascination led to the exhibition, which featured various prints of the monsters that could be moved and rearranged like a jigsaw puzzle.
“It was never intended to be anything quite that large; it just got out of hand,” Riley says with a laugh. “I’ve been working a lot with Kentucky history. It’s been interesting because there’s so much you can read about how people dealt with problems, or the residual ripples that in time became ridiculous folklore tales. But you can still see evidence of them in present society.”
Riley is a printmaker, doing various types of woodcuts, linoleum cuts, and screen prints, among other media. He teaches the intricate art at Transylvania, largely to students who have very limited familiarity with printmaking.
“It’s the art of multiples. It’s all about making multiple copies of the same thing. The ability to mass produce printed material is a big reason why we’re where we are as a society, but it’s also being replaced by digital design.
"In the arts there are a few media that you can still go into and make a living, and printmaking is still pretty high up there.”
For students to really shine in the art, they have to be self-sufficient, Riley says. It’s one of his biggest goals as an instructor, as important as teaching the art itself.
“So much of being able to make a living in the arts comes down to how you can self-motivate and self-assess. If you can’t do those two things, you just get eaten alive.”
Riley has plenty of experience with success as an artist. He built his own press out of plywood and two-by-fours, and he’s shown his work throughout the country. He’s dedicated to being an artist and a professor, without sacrificing either job.
“Between teaching and working, there’s not a lot of free time. On weekends, I’ll get up, drink a pot of coffee, and read a book. On nice days I’ll clean off the porch for my T-shirt printing business. Then the rest of the time I’m working on my own art.”
Transylvania University admits students regardless of age, race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, national origin, or any other classification protected by federal or state law or local ordinance.