Artist Profile | Derek Eads: Pops Of Culture

Artist Derek Eads owes much of his budding career to Nicolas Cage’s haircuts. It was an illustration of the many coiffs worn throughout the actor’s filmography that initially caught the world’s attention on Tumblr. Also essential to building a base of admirers? Eight iterations of Michael Cera as a cinematic romantic, proclaiming his love for a different girl in each.

The advantage to drawing pop culture icons is, of course, their built-in fan base. But Eads has one of his own now, and while celebrities and film references are still a mainstay of his artwork (Christian Slater, David Bowie, Will Smith, and everything Wes Anderson, just to name a few), his range expands beyond entertainment, and includes portraits, illustrated Facebook profile photos, anthropomorphized animals, and, yes, a series on the many faces of Donald Trump. “The politics is a new thing ‘cause that’s just too crazy to not [draw],” Eads says.

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The 28-year-old’s style can be disturbing, but it’s the kind of disturbing that fascinates, the kind you can’t look away from. Blood, gore, and rot reside alongside flowers, pretty women, and frozen novelties on his Instagram. Humor and horror co-exist.

Artwork: Derek Eads.

Eads grew up in a small town in Indiana, a place where the lack of excitement proved fruitful. “I think it helped a lot ‘cause you had to come up with your own entertainment,” he says. He was always into drawing, recalling the posters he worked on for themed homecoming events in high school. After an unfulfilling stint at community college, he sold all his belongings and dedicated himself to art full-time.

Around five years ago, the band fun. (relatively unknown at the time) came through town. Eads went to the show and was blown away by bassist David Lizmi and keyboardist Jessica Martins. While they weren’t official members of fun., they were in a band called Via Audio, which was scheduled to play his hometown. Eads got in touch with them and offered his place as a crash pad. The band took him up on the offer and Eads ended up doing artwork for them. That friendship led to more musical introductions; now he does artwork for groups like The Spring Standards, Lucius, and PigPen Theatre Co. “Bands are a big reason why I do art,” Eads says.

Artwork: Detail from “Elle” by @derek_eads on Instagram.

It’s no longer the only one. Since the Cage haircuts and Cera characters made the rounds on the interwebs, he’s been fielding commissions from all over. His work has appeared everywhere from an issue of the Charleston City Paper to the cover of The Tao of Bill Murray, a forthcoming book by Gavin Edwards.

Eads, who now lives about 30 minutes north of Indianapolis, pulls inspiration from television, film, and everyday interactions with others. He mulls over ideas during runs, then hand-draws most of his designs before scanning them and vectorizing them in Illustrator or adding textures in Photoshop. “I tried to do the thing where you try to work with what you think people are into, but I think it works out best if I do something for fun. That’s the way it usually ends up catching on,” he says.

Artwork: Detail from “Happy Birthday to Ben Affleck” by @derek_eads on Instagram.

While he’s exhibited in group shows at galleries like Los Angeles’ Gallery1988, he’s yet to have a show of his own. That, and experimenting with out-of-the-box art forms, are among his hopes for his artistic future. Eads recently began designing a set of Tarot cards, a new interest of his. “A couple people felt the things didn’t match as well as they’d like, so I figured I should study up on it,” he says. “I definitely love the style. Each one carries a story behind it and that’s what intrigued me.” 

For his next show, Eads is working on a set of playing cards of mismatching body parts based on Fast Times at Ridgemont High. “I figure people only have so much wall space,” he says. Luckily, ingenuity is limitless.