Since he first emerged as the most artistically capable figure in the 1990s poster art renaissance, Derek Hess has made a name for himself in the worlds of fine arts, album covers, apparel design, tattooing, and even music festivals. Though he explores dark and intense themes, he’s nonetheless made art so broadly appealing that his work has been collected in the Louvre, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in tattoo parlors—and Hess is equally proud to be in all of those places.
Born in Cleveland in 1964, Hess’ ascendance in the arts should probably come as little surprise. His father, Roy Hess, was a noteworthy designer, and chairman of the lauded industrial design department at the Cleveland Institute of Art. From a young age, Hess was correctly trained in classical art and design.
Hess studied at that school, and at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, but he never landed in his father’s department, trying out illustration and graphic design before settling on a major in printmaking. It was that discipline, combined with his love of music, that led Hess to poster art fame. He had begun booking post-hardcore and underground rock concerts at the Euclid Tavern, a divey blues bar across the street from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and he drew his own fliers to promote his shows. It didn’t hurt that Hess was musically ahead of the curve, booking then-unknowns like Helmet, Green Day, and Melvins at a time when the other clubs in town couldn’t have cared less.
But as that music scene grew, people started taking as much note of Hess’ distinctive fliers as of the bands themselves—his imagery was perfect for the music’s sound, a contradictory chimera of (and sly commentary on) toughness and fragility, grandiose posturing in the face of fatalism. Though he preferred a very casual, loose, sketchy line, it was clear that Hess paid attention in anatomy class, and his work won high praise from art-world mavens who couldn’t have cared less about Cop Shoot Cop.
“I was excited about these bands,” Hess said, “and I could draw, so I just went ahead and did it. There was always inspiration to work from in the bands’ names, or their images, or just whatever their music made me feel like drawing. People started noticing the art, and then people started putting that imagery with the club, in their minds. And THEN it started to become about the artist that did all the cool fliers for the cool club that had the cool bands.”
Hess’ fliers caught the eye of gallerist Marty Geramita, who convinced Hess to level up from photocopied fliers into silkscreened posters, and formed a business devoted to that pursuit. It was from there that Hess became internationally known, creating posters for Pearl Jam and Pink Floyd; album covers for Sepultura, Converge, and R.L. Burnside; and launching the Strhess apparel line, which itself spun off into a traveling music festival.
Since then, Hess has eschewed most commercial work, focusing on original drawings and fine art serigraphs. In the 2014 documentary film Forced Perspective, Hess opened up publicly for the first time about his struggles with bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and the outpouring of fan support led him to mental health activism. He formed Acting Out! to help spread awareness of mental illness among creative people, devoted to panel discussions and arts across all disciplines, including music, comedy, visual art and film.
“Most of the emotions my work relates to are those that can be seen as the ‘negative' ones,” said Hess. “My work isn’t happy, there’s angst, depression, loss, fear, and loneliness in my work. Drawing the essence of emotions is elemental—we as a species will ALWAYS have heartache. It’d be deeply satisfying in my work stood the test of time, if it would be as relevant to someone in a hundred years as it felt to me the day I drew it.”
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We package everything pretty well and don’t run into many issues but it does happen. Please take a picture of the item and the packaging and send to email@example.com.
Please make sure and read the description on each piece. All limited editions and originals are hand signed by me, while open editions can be signed for a small fee. After 25 years my hand is getting tired...haha.
If this upgrade is available it means this particular item does not come signed and this gives you the opportunity to have me sign it or not.
I get many requests to sign a book or art to a particular person for their birthday, anniversary, etc. This gives you the opportunity to have me sign a print “Happy Birthday Bob, I hope you have a great day…D” and add a small sketch to the item also.
Unfortunately no. It’s been a long standing policy that I don’t do tattoos for people. I get a ton of requests and I feel if I did one, I’d have to do them all, hope everyone understands. If you’d like to use an existing
image please feel free. If you do get one done I’d love to see it, please don’t hesitate to post a picture of it to my social media: facebook, instagram, twitter.
I do interviews over the phone only. If you send me a list of questions chances are i won’t ever get around to answering them so it’s best to do it by phone. Please read my bio first so we can get past the “where did you go to school” type questions and really get
into the meat of it. All interviews are set up on Thursdays and Fridays between 2:00 and 6:00pm. You will need to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time.
I try and get to all the emails and messages sent but sometimes it’s hard. Just hang tight. Sooner or later, I’ll get around to it.
Read the bio, be creative and try to find your own path to get your work out there.
I rarely take commissions, but if the project is right and it inspires me, I might, so you never know. Send all inquiries to email@example.com
My drawing influences are many, my two biggest ones are Heinrich Kley and Gil Kane. The old masters were pretty brilliant, and Ralph Steadman‘s stuff is great. Bad relationships tend to inspire me, as well.
I don’t have all the answers, I’m not a professional...that being said, if you’re having a meltdown, call 911 or go to an emergency room. Other than that, I personally am pro-meds, pro-therapy, and pro-doctor. I do all of those things and they work for me.
At this time I’m declining all requests for T-shirts, but thanks for the interest.