Derek's work as a tā moko artist is only one of many roles he fulfils as a visual artist. He is also a carver, Kapa Haka performer, composer, graphic designer, and researcher of whakapapa, tribal history and kaikorero. Derek also tutors Kapa Haka for the Whangara Mai Tawhiti Cultural Group.
Born in 1961, and with an educational background in teaching, fine arts and classical Māori literature, Derek is principal tutor and an Associate Professor,at Toihoukura, School of Maori Arts, based at Gisborne's Eastland Institute of Technology Tairawhiti campus.
Derek has facilitated and participated in numerous exhibitions and workshops both in New Zealand and overseas. He was the commissioning artist for the Maui sculptures that adorn his tribal mountain Hikurangi; was Director of the Tā Moko Delegation to the South Pacific Arts Festival, Palau (2004); and led a working exhibition of tā moko at Te Papa as part of the NZ Festival of the Arts (2004). He has exhibited his work around the world.
In 2006 Derek took up a Masters programme at Canterbury University's Ilam School of Fine Arts, on a thesis entitled Tamoko - Traditional Pathways Contemporary Connections. This culminated in a solo show at the Sofa Gallery in the Christchurch Arts Centre in March 2007, consisting of a one day tā moko demonstration. In the same year, Derek designed the fern motif for the uniform for New Zealand's Commonwealth Games team; created background images to feature behind the original Air New Zealand koru logo and was named the first recipient of a new artist-in-residence programme based near the Gallipoli peninsula. Derek can also be credited with Kapa-o-pango, the new All Black haka, and the logo for the 2006 Commonwealth Games uniform.
Derek is very involved in kapa haka and has coached and led East Coast kapa haka group Whangara-mai-Tawhiti to become supreme winner at the national kapa haka championships. As a fluent speaker of Maori he maintains a strong commitment to the culture, language and customs of his ancestors, means building connections to the land, marae and people, to his whanau, hapu and iwi.
Derek received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2004 and in 2008 was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Derek is chairperson of Te Uhi, a Tā Moko Arts Collective and is also a trustee of Toi Māori Aotearoa and is an Associate Professor at Tairawhiti's . He has been cultural advisor to the All Blacks since 2005 and is responsible for the branding of the Athens and Kuala Lumpur New Zealand Olympic teams among many other projects. In 2012 he was made an Associate Professor, Eastland Institute of Technology.
Derek lives in Gisborne with his wife and children where he is actively involved in many facets of Te Ao Māori and continues to work as a practising artist.