Derham Groves


My latest book titled, Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design, is due to be published in September this year by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

    The book’s blurb by Andrew Chrystall:

Out of the Ordinary is one part unembellished documentation and one part verbi-visual equivalent of a Pro Hart work made with nineteenth-century, paint-loaded canons. It is a cultural history, resource for contemporary designers, imaginarium and luminous almanac of an explorer of the stranger species of creativity — from brick art to letterboxes, junk mail, mail art, television, fashion, food, model trains, Disney’s imagineering, amusement parks, feng-shui, Postmodern architecture, human-scale craftsman­ship, forgotten Australian architects in China, famous architects (that, perhaps, should be forgotten save for their bow ties), collectors of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, outsider artists and clients — and none of these things exactly.

Everywhere Derham Groves attends to and finds significance in the minutiae of everyday life, inter-association, and those things that affect us so profoundly but remain just outside the purview of the “normal.” And in these things — objects, art, architecture, environment(s) — he finds stories and teaches his reader how to do the same. Out of the Ordinary is also a motivational text. It begins with bricks, perhaps the most standardized and repeatable units of construction, and reveals how they can be used as vehicles for unfettered creativity and not merely for the creation of containers. Groves shows how art and architecture can emerge and receive nourishment from the garbage of the everyday and creative collisions. Groves also calls, albeit subtly, for a turn away from homogeneity, the standard­ized, and unimaginative or “lazy” design informed by principles of economy, efficiency, utility and function conceived in abstraction. Rather, Groves celebrates the reanimation and/or rejuvenation of place by the makers of anything out of the ordinary (who don’t necessarily pray to the demiurge of good taste) who have created spaces and things through which the creative imagination shines.

Dr. Andrew Chrystall, School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University.

    A review of the book by Michael Jørgensen:

Derham Groves is a unique thinker and one might say that he himself is “Out of the Ordinary.” An extraordinary range of phenomena fascinates him, which he investigates with an unusual tenacity, skill and erudition. In each case these topics and issues — at first glance deceptively diverse and unrelated — is meticulously dissected, illustrated and described with clear, unpreten­tious and very readable prose, which puts much other so-called academic writ­ing to shame. Consider just some of the things he covers, taken at random here from the contents page of his latest book, Out of the Ordinary: Deceptively “mundane” things such as bricks and brick­work; do-it-yourself letterboxes; and (who would even think of this?) junk e-mail or spam. Then there is television and its manifesta­tions in the days of its introduction in Derham’s home country, Australia; Disneyland and the feng-shui of Hong Kong Disney­land; the shop-houses of Vietnam and elsewhere; Sherlock Holmes and other crime fiction, one of Derham’s longstand­ing interests; a little-known Australian architect and a better known one; and an eccentric naïve Australian painter, the late Pro Hart. But that is not all! Dr. Groves has written elsewhere of the 1939 tour of Australia by Anna May Wong, the celebrated Chinese-American actress, and since the publication of his book about her in 2011, he has become intrigued by another tour “Down Under” by an American, William Boyd, a.k.a. Hopalong Cassidy, in 1954. Der­ham has also become interested in the crime novels of a little-known Australian writer, the late June Wright, whose crime novels were published in the 1940s through to the 1960s. He has also traced the overseas travels in North America of a group of young Australian men in 1959 using an old diary written by one of them. Where did he obtain the diary? On eBay would you believe it, just one of Derham’s research tools and so like this most unusual person — archi­tect, aca­demic and cultural historian. I cannot recommend this book more highly. Derham Groves’ many-facetted interests and the manner in which he so skilfully draws you into them will fascinate you.

 Michael Jørgensen, Architect, author and publisher.

    A book review by Zoe Nikakis in the September 2012 edition of Voice:

In Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design, Derham Groves explores his academic and personal passions. Zoe Nikakis dives into his world.

Derham Groves investigates, “the popular, the ordinary and the odd”.

So writes Dr Groves’ frequent collaborator, the celebrated architect Corbett Lyon, in his introduction to the recently published Out of the Ordinary: Popular Art, Architecture and Design.

“His definition of ‘popular’ is broad and not restricted to the high pop art and architecture of the elite,” Mr Lyon writes, “but embracing and celebrating the popular culture of the masses – do-it-yourself renovators; collectors of kitsch; high street commercial architecture; and the signs and symbols of our suburbs.”

Dr Groves focuses on seemingly unconnected topics and types of Australian ephemera and art – from the use and importance of brickwork as an artistic medium and the place of letterboxes in pop culture – but his passion for the obscure and the overlooked ties these disparate oddities together.

His interest in letterboxes and the everyday as art began when he was completing his PhD in the US during the 1990s.

“My supervisor was a Disney and television scholar, and she spurred my interest in popular culture,” Dr Groves says.

“Australian handmade letterboxes are much more than merely containers for mail. Firstly, they are Australian icons, since perhaps nowhere else in the world do people express themselves through their letterboxes with quite as much fervour as we do in Australia.

“Secondly, letterboxes facilitate links with the outside world. Most people love to receive letters – at least those containing good news. The letterbox is also where neighbours often meet to chew the fat and discuss the weather. Thirdly, letterboxes are symbols of home.”

The book also focuses on Dr Groves’ projects with collaborators and his students, who have created artworks for exhibitions made from bricks.

“I’m also interested in bricks because in some ways, they’re the very bottom line of architecture: you can’t get more basic than a brick,” Dr Groves says.

“Australia produces high-quality bricks in a wide range of colours so there is no reason for boring brickwork in my opinion.

“Often the problem is that architects do not design brickwork, but allow it to happen of its own accord. However the interesting brick buildings that have been designed by Lyons Architecture and others in recent years indicate that things are changing for the better.”

Dr Groves often incorporates his students’ projects into his books.

“Students produce so much work that it gets lost, so it’s important to record it,” he says.

“In the past I have investigated the design of brickwork from several different points of view. I have taught several design courses for architecture students focused on how bricks can be used in innovative and interesting ways.

“Earlier this year, I also spent time in Trivandrum in India doing a brick workshop with a group of first year students looking at a specific style of brickwork, so it all ties together.”

Other essays focus on the ways in which Dr Groves incorporates this research into his teaching.

“It’s all about material culture, and the interactions between art, design, symbolism, and popular culture,” Dr Groves says.

“It’s about pop art as architecture – sometimes buildings are ugly, provocative, edgy – and how important it is never to let good taste get in the way of good design.”

    Out of the Ordinary in Amazon’s top 10 “Hot New … Architectural Criticism” list!