A painter and printmaker, Derrick Greaves' work gained critical acclaim in the 1950s as a member of the Beaux Arts Quartet, the so-called 'Kitchen Sink' realist painters who emanated from the Royal College of Art (1948–52). Greaves and his contemporaries at the Royal College—John Bratby, Edward Middleditch and Jack Smith—first exhibited together at the 'Young Contemporaries' in the R.B.A. Galleries in January 1952 and were taken on by Helen Lessore at the Beaux Arts Gallery. Greaves was awarded the Abbey Major Scholarship in 1952 and went to Italy for two years. He was awarded the Gold Medal for Painting at the Moscow Youth Festival in 1953. He was chosen to represent Britain in the Venice Biennale international art exhibition in 1956.
Despite his reputation as a painter Derrick Greaves is an important printmaker. A consummate draughtsman, the discipline of print has consistently satisfied his graphic needs. The Greaves collection, purchased in 2000, includes the series of seven monoprints depicting Armenian peasants produced for his solo exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery, London in 1958 and the screen prints inspired by Pierre Loüys's Chansons de Bilitis (1978/9). Greaves has also been concerned to develop an idea or theme in a graphic medium following the Vollard concept of the 'suite' of prints. He taught part-time at St Martin's School of Art (1954–64), Maidstone College of Art and the Royal Academy Schools during the 1960s and was Head of Printmaking at Norwich School of Art (1983–91) in the department he set up.
He continues to live and work in Norfolk. In 2002 the artist generously donated 26 new screen prints including those from the Gardens, Birdsong and Still Life Variations suites.