Born in London in 1927, Derek Davis came from a long line of craftsmen. Derek inherited the family's love of music and was passionate and knowledgeable about jazz, particularly the blues.
Derek had known from an early age that he wanted to be an artist. After the war and encouraged by a cousin who went to the Slade School of Art, he qualified for a grant to the Central School of Arts and Crafts. This enabled him to study painting and sculpture with fashion drawing for three years from 1945. There he met the potter Eric James Mellon, who was to become a lifelong friend and fellow resident of West Sussex.
In 1947 Derek Davis and Eric Mellon visited Paris where they saw many exhibitions, in particular the work of Matisse and Picasso. Both of these artists bridged the art/craft divide, an influence that would stay with Derek for the rest of his career.
Together they bought a kiln and started to make pots, calling themselves the Hillesden Group (till 1955).
During the 1940’s and 50’s Derek pushed the boundaries of clay. At this time most potters followed the teachings of Bernard Leach, for whom form was determined as much by function as aesthetics.
Not so for Derek, his imagination and inquisitiveness for materials, led to concepts and ideas not usually associated with clay, but more clearly aligned with fine art.
The 1960s were a fruitful and successful time for Derek. In 1960 he joined the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and showed for the first time at the Victoria and Albert Museum, exhibiting some of his last terracotta pieces. Thereafter he concentrated on making stoneware and by 1963 had developed the sang de boeuf and aubergine glazes for which he is renowned. The development of his signature, vivid turquoise-blue barium glaze, followed in 1970 and is closely associated with his work of this period.
Alongside these, Derek produced great hand-built sculptural pieces – objects, reliefs and murals.
During the autumn of 1967 Derek was artist in residence at Sussex University, an experimental time culminating in a lecture and two exhibitions. Exhibitions worldwide followed as his reputation grew, and in 1976 Sir Roy Strong selected Derek and his fellow potter Mary Rogers to represent the "Spirit of the 70s" for an exhibition at the V&A.
In 1991 he finally stopped working in clay to concentrate on his painting.
Released from the uncertainty of opening the kiln, Derek enjoyed the spontaneity of colour and paint and the freedom of immediate expression. As with his ceramics Derek’s paintings were both abstract and figurative. The latter often being on the subject of love and relationships, his paintings often invite the viewer to consider the "story" being portrayed in the figurative works.
Derek exhibited widely including two further times at the V&A, throughout the UK, Europe, the USA and Japan.
His work is in a number of public and private collections including the V&A.