Derek Hill

Since 2014, Derek Hill has been amalgamating his practice with microbiology scientists from the Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology, (CBCB) at Newcastle University to create a major new artwork for public engagement that is inspired by ‘hitherto unseen kingdoms’. The project; ‘Illuminating Bugs’ is part-funded by Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences.

Hill is an RCA trained practitioner based in the North East of England UK. He founded the Art Studio, Sunderland in 1986 and was its Artistic Lead for 26 years until 2012. At the Studio he consolidated his practice alongside people with mental health issues, providing an outlet for their creativity and helping them to develop into artists in their own right. With his encouragement 39 went on to complete undergraduate and higher degrees. Hill received widespread acclaim for his pioneering work, including television appearances and recognition by The Daily Telegraph/Association of Business Sponsors of the Arts, (ABSA). Arts Council England and the City of Sunderland commissioned the installation; “book” for the Visual Arts UK Initiative and his work has been exhibited in London, Oxford, Glasgow, Paris, Belgrade.

He was given his first one-man show at the Imperial War Museum, London in 1983 by its curator, Angela Weight, with his body of work: “Victory and Defeat”. His art is displayed in various public and private collections including the Imperial War Museum, London. He is featured in national publications including the Telegraph, the Observer supplement, the Arts Council’s “96 from 96”, Arts Review and Flash Art International online magazine.

“Derek Hill works like an alchemist.  His studio is a magical place where he conducts his experiments.  It is a cavernous roof space with alcoves and wooden stairways on every side.  Overhead is a tangle of huge wooden beams with an occasional fluttering pigeon, and in the middle is a great irregular space.  Paintings are everywhere.  They lean in stacks in all directions.  They are slotted in rows into every alcove.  They cover the floor with sheets of polythene.  On the narrow strips between them are pots and tools, and there’s not much room to walk.

Derek’s alchemy consists in making combinations from his remarkable storehouse of materials, and in deploying his immense compendium of techniques.  His images are drawn, poured, and painted in a meticulous sequence of actions balancing chance and control.  Some of his canvases are like microscopic biological processes expanded to a massive size.  Others appear to be vast geographical processes made to happen in a few square feet.  They are lucid and mysterious, generous and intense, majestic and, literally, wonderful.” – John Millard, from ‘Flaw’ – Hill’s series of exhibitions from 2010 – 2012. ‘Flaw’ is currently in progress. 

John Millard is a former manager of Newcastle and Liverpool museums.



 Hill’s current studio


See link to Work in progress since 2016 Present;  https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipMU9bRXzBRMgVCaVNR38WUqg5rAvyRvzrs_1KXrRVIqVBGGqDfv7svvumFMe2ev9A?key=bDlXNGhCb3BFR3N6RlNDeWZVRTNIc2x5V0pFZllB

‘Illuminating Bugs’

‘Illuminating Bugs’ is a collaboration that is currently in development with the Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology at Newcastle University and is inspired by “hitherto unseen kingdoms”.

“In contrast, the art practice which Hill has set up with scientists of the University of Newcastle is remarkable for the ways in which it represents an unfaltering stream of exceptional work that he has produced since his time at the Royal College in the 1970s and the persistence that he has shown in linking his art production to collaborative projects with professional artists and non-professionals.

When he left the Royal College and was traveling in Africa, Derek’s life was put in jeopardy by a bacterial infection. The trauma of that experience has been a mainspring of his work over several decades, and it found a ready response from the university scientists. The resulting link of intense lab work, scientific interaction and processing, and computer imaging with the organic nature of Derek’s art practice presents a remarkable opportunity for the creation of new and exciting artwork, and the engagement of university personnel, schools, and communities”.

John Millard 2017

See; Illuminating Bugs

Special mention to chief collaborators at the CBCB; Professor Jeff Errington FRS, Professor Colin Harwood, and Dr Richard Daniel


Hill’s Presentation to CBCB (PDF: 8MB).