Reflections Folk Art Contemporary Paintings Derek Mehaffey


Derek Mehaffy

By David May

You'll often hear travelers say, "take only memories and leave only footprints." Derek Mehaffey doesn't. He always leaves his mark. 


You might find his mark anywhere. It could be on a telephone pole in Dublin, a freight train in Texas, a piece of scrap metal in Singapore or a dirty wall in Taipei. Derek is a street artist. He's also one of the thousands of xpats that have stopped in Taiwan to teach English.

The travel bug bit Mehaffey in his youth while living in Ottawa.   He spent long periods of time traveling and skateboarding all over Canada and the U.S., often hopping trains hobo-style. While sliding and riding rails he developed a passion for graffiti and street-art. Now an established artist in Berlin, he's had residencies there and in Paris. His art has showcased throughout Europe and North America alongside artists such as Pat Thompson, Julian Garner and Juan Carlos Noria. He landed in Taiwan in 2000 and stayed for seven months teaching English and working as an artist along the way. 


In Taiwan, Mehaffey shacked near the Chiang Kai Shek memorial. He ate up the Taiwanese lifestyle exploring Taipei, riding up to the mountains in search of fresh air, and chewing bing lang triads at inner-city hot springs. He even developed a love of stinky tofu. Mehaffey described Taipei as a blend of past and future cluttered up in pollution and he felt it was something reminiscent of Blade Runner. Taipei inspired him.


"I'm influenced by urban decay and desolate areas...cities that are falling apart. I'm not inspired by art," he said. "Taipei is beautiful if you like the movie Blade Runner. I was there for seven months and really wanted to be involved in the arts community. The problem was I couldn't fucking find it." Mehaffey was left to create his own. On this mission, Mehaffey put up hundreds of little paintings all over Taipei with his e-mail on the back.

"They were lost in all the clutter, lights and noises and scooters when I left gathering dust. Actually one girl found one and e-mailed me and she was from Montreal. That really tripped me out! Sometimes I still imagine the paintings there all dusty and abandoned."


Mehaffey said he enjoyed his time in Taiwan although he does, of course, have his complaints.

"Those white they made me want to barf," he said. "All these ugly fat white boys going out and trying to get laid. I think it is gross. Not my scene." 


Before leaving Taiwan he left his mark down south. Mehaffey was commissioned to paint a mural in his favorite place in Taiwan: Kenting. Mehaffey paints mostly on found objects, in the folk art or hobo art genre. He may follow an older genre, but his pieces are contemporary juxtapositions of youthful graphic images with bright colors painted onto worn, found objects. A recent exhibition in Ottawa displayed works painted on wallpaper-covered board, an orange crate, and even rusted metal baking trays. He said working with found objects inspires and extends his creativity.

"Canvas has no soul to me. I hate looking at its white suburban surface. It makes me sick," he said. "I like walking or biking all day and searching for something that's just right. The works are inspired by my search and it gives me the time to think of something.


It becomes more creative when you don't have all you need or want to finish a piece."   Where does all this creativity come from? It traces back to his time growing up in Ottawa. "Tell me something to do in minus thirty in February in Ottawa. Create something--create your own world."

He continues to create his own world and has no plans to return to Taiwan. If you want to buy or see some of his work you can contact him through his flickr site at or you can roam the streets of Taipei looking for one of those dusty old paintings with his e-mail address.

If you need some art to go with it, Derek has some of his work posted on his flickr site I am sure you can use 


since everyone has a fucked up story from Taiwan....

1)well i was skateboarding and a police officer demanded i get off my skateboard and i didn't and he lost his marbles and pulled his gun on me put it right to my head and screamed some shit as loud as he could ...that was weird....

2)i also got 14 stitches in my head the day my girlfriend from Canada dumped me and took off with some dutch lawyer on his motorcycle ....

3)one night i got stuck on a train that wouldn't stop and it took me and a friend way out of the city to this weird town in the mountains. Since I had my head shaved because of my stitches when i ordered a vegetarian meal at the towns only restaurant they thought i was a Buddhist and left out all stimulants ...basically a bowl of noodles without garlic onions hot sauce anything good. Then we went and slept on a giant rock under a full moon far away from civilization. Actually everyday was something different and wonderful and terrible it was great"

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