Derren Brown may be best known as a mentalist and illusionist, with his latest stage production Showman wowing audiences last year. Yet the 52-year-old is a man of many talents, as he’s also an accomplished author and artist.
During lockdown, Brown focused his creative efforts on celebrity caricature paintings with his take on the late great Freddie Mercury being a real standout.
Having enjoyed that “totally different identity” as an artist away from his usual magical antics, he actually ended up pausing when the world opened up again.
Throwing himself into Showman, he found himself working on his next production Unbelievable during the day, before performing in the evening.
But a couple of years on and he’s finally returned to those brush strokes, with a portrait of Elvis Presley kicking off a new series of paintings.
Speaking exclusively with Express.co.uk, Brown admitted he isn’t particularly a fan of Elvis but was certainly inspired to caricature him after seeing the 2022 movie. He said: “I did love [the Baz Luhrmann biopic], I have to say.”
Now 52, he shared that as he gets older it’s the big iconic names like The King of Rock and Roll who he’s attracted to bring to life on the canvas.
The illusionist said: “He always felt like somebody I should do and I think the film bounced the idea back into my head. So when I came to paint, he just sort of made sense. [Elvis is one of these] big characters that end up populating your life even if they’re in the background, even if you don’t listen to them or watch them a lot. Years ago I had this quite clear thought that at some point, shortly before death, we’ll each have this sense of ‘Oh those were all the people, not just celebrities but anybody, who populated my life.’”
As a result, Brown says he ends up having a kind of nostalgic “affection” for such people from music icons to the people who he regularly sees in the street.
Brown’s Elvis painting has the usual exaggerated characteristics of his other caricatures, with The King’s famous lip curl being particularly prominent. He reflected: “It’s squidgy and spongy, making it fun to paint.” But what really stands out about this piece is the artist’s choice of 1950s black and white with hints of colour: blue eyes, a blue background and red lips. Red, white and blue, perhaps represent the Americana that such a legend as Elvis embodies to this day.
This is just the start of Brown’s latest wave of portraits with David Bowie coming next. After which he’s thinking maybe Leonard Cohen, who he listens to as he paints – along with the music of Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley.
Meanwhile, Unbelievable is set to open in London’s West End next week, a show Brown’s not personally in but has his fingerprints all over.
Brown shared: “It’s not even magicians in it, it’s actors and musicians.” He promises “an egoless magic family show”, a change from his dark, scary, edgier side of performances like Showman. He added: “It’s been a difficult and much more complicated process than we thought because it hasn’t been done before.”
Asked about the next time he plans to get back on stage himself, the mentalist replied: “My plan, really for the next year, is just to paint and write a new book, so expect a lot more pop stars with big noses and big ears!”
To book tickets for Unbelievable at London’s Criterion Theatre, click here.