ASHLEY, Derek     [DXA]

Born Joseph Keenan in Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, England, in 1919, he adopted Derek Ashley as his professional name for his career in art in the 1950s.  From an early age Derek showed exceptional ability in drawing and painting. At the age of thirteen he was awarded a Junior Art Scholarship to attend the Hull College of Art. His subsequent studies took him to London where he attended St. Martin’s College of Art and the Royal College of Art.

Derek was prevented from taking up the Rome Scholarship and studying in Italy due to the impending Second World War. Instead he served as an officer in the Royal Air Force, on flying duties throughout the war.

Derek RAF officer 1946

Derek returned to his studies following the war, concentrating upon painting techniques, design and the science of colour – colorimetry.  He subsequently lectured on these subjects and acted as a colour consultant to leading paint and plastics manufacturers. He acted as a design and colour consultant for Lyons Corner Houses, Bendix Domestic Appliances, Boots Pure Drug Company Ltd. and Rank Precision Industries Ltd. amongst others. In his work in the field of colour and design he was known professionally as Joseph Keenan.

Derek’s  move into a studio in the ‘Italian Village’ in the late 1950s marked the beginning of the future development of his work as an artist. The ‘Italian Village’, as it is frequently known, is a garden complex of twenty six studios in Chelsea, London. When Derek joined this art colony it was owned and supervised by the Italian sculptor, Mario Manenti. It was an ideal situation in which to develop his work, with its artistic atmosphere and talented neighbours and visitors.

There followed a period of very hard work and some hardship as Derek developed his style and technique and gained recognition. At this time he developed his own style using line, gouache and pastel. This rapid, visual, on the spot painting was ideally suitable for subjects such as racing cars, horses and flamenco scenes, resulting in works full of action and movement.  Reproductions of eleven of these paintings were published as Fine Art Prints. These sold throughout the world, providing Derek with public recognition. Ashley prints frequently appeared in publications such as ‘Pictures and Prints’ and ‘The Gift Buyer International’ during the 1960s and 1970s.



In the 1970s Derek was inspired to develop and change his style. He developed a highly detailed classical style based upon his earlier training and studies. This was influenced by the Classical Italian and Spanish style, but with the contemporary influence of Salvador Dali. The result was his beautifully composed and finished ‘Still Life’ paintings.

Derek thrived upon meeting the people who purchased his work. For this reason he bypassed the galleries and sold his work directly to the public. He did this by exhibiting his work at the Open Air Art Exhibition at London’s Green Park. He was one of the founder members of the exhibition in the late 1950s and rarely missed a Sunday throughout his career as an artist. His clients were people from all parts of the world who frequently returned to visit him as friends whenever they were in London. Ashley paintings are owned and admired by people worldwide.


Al-Qabas International

The international appeal of Ashley’s work is demonstrated by these photographs and article in the Al-Qabas International newspaper on 23rd July 1986, just a few weeks before Ashley’s death. Here he is again pictured at Green Park, this time exhibiting his Still Life paintings.

In his personal life Derek was a man of strong principles. He demonstrated the free – flowing artistic expression essential to his work, but the strength of his principles meant that he did not adopt the Bohemian lifestyle sometimes associated with the professional artist. Instead he worked hard, ate and drank in moderation and was sincere in his friendships and emotional attachments. He always made time to listen to the problems of others, showing particular empathy with young people, and to give help where it was needed. He was a man of great humour and a skilled raconteur with a wide range of interests which he followed with whole hearted enthusiasm.  During his life as an artist, a designer, a sportsman, a Flamenco dancer and a serving officer in the Royal Air Force he came into contact with people across the world and formed many lasting friendships.  Derek was greatly loved by his many friends for his kind and generous nature and warm hearted personality.

Sadly, following an accident, Derek died at the age of 67, whilst at the height of his artistic powers.

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