“Derek Hess is an American artist based in Cleveland, Ohio. His creative career grew largely out of his ability to express the emotion in the indie, hardcore and hard rock scenes of the mid-1990s. His posters are known for humor and irony, with the subject matter frequently using the name of the band as inspiration.
His work is well known to devotees of album cover art and concert flyer art. He has produced artwork for musicians such as Pantera, Taking Back Sunday, Thursday, Season to Risk, Poison the Well, The Cows, The Reverend Horton Heat, NOFX, In Flames, From Autumn to Ashes, Methods of Mayhem, Converge, Before Their Eyes and many more.
Hess currently has his art displayed permanently in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in rotation at the Louvre in Paris. The majority of Hess’ fine art is done in pen and ink along with acrylic paint or screen printing.
Hess also owns his own indiemerchstore.com clothing line, Strhess. His shirt designs can be seen worn by many famous musicians from the genres rock to indie. Shaun Morgan of Seether is photographed wearing a Strhess shirt in the liner notes of One Cold Night, a live acoustic album.
Derek Hess has been featured on MTV, VH1, Alternative Press, etc…” – Wikipedia
Tim Bonner: Did you hold onto any of the war images your father sketched from your verbal descriptions as a child?
Derek Hess: No. I wish I would have. It was pretty brilliant stuff. He would come home from work, make himself a martini, and he always had his shirts dry cleaned because he wore a suit to work. Well, the dry cleaning would always come back stuffed with pieces of cardboard, so I’d hand him the cardboard and say, “Hey draw a P38! Hey draw a P37! Hey draw a Messerschmitt BF 109 shooting it down!” Ha-ha.
T.J. : That’s awesome!
Derek Hess: Yea, he banged them out. After a hard day at work he would still do that for me.
T.J. : That had to be great experience, especially as a young artist.
Derek Hess: Oh yea! He was a bomber pilot in WWII, so it was all subject matter that he was into.
T.J. : You list your influences as Heinrich Kley and Gil Kane specifically. What do you find most interesting about Heinrich Kley’s work?
Derek Hess: Well, the way he mastered the figure. Kley worked with pen and ink, and when laying down a line in pen and ink…you can’t erase that line, you have to live with it. It’s amazing that he never seemed to have a problem with that.
T.J. : Who is your favorite Gil Kane comic character?
Derek Hess: My favorite comic character is Captain America, but unfortunately Gil didn’t do a lot of work on Captain America. I think he did his best work on Spider-Man (#89-92; 96-105; 120-124; 150; Annual #10). His DC stuff was awesome, but yea…I think his Spider-Man work was the most dynamic.
T.J. : Would I be off base in saying that your art-work seems to depict a constant struggle between the forces of good and evil?
Derek Hess: No. I think that’s laid out pretty obviously in some of them, but it’s more internal. It’s not so much of a heaven and hell kind of thing. It’s a struggle between choices, karma, and all things along those lines.
T.J. : What are the significances of the teddy bears and wings in your art?
Derek Hess: Well the teddy bears are just drawn in for fun. I don’t know if someone asked me to or not, but from there I said, “Well, I’m gonna make them Teddy Angels and put wings on them.” Ha-ha. Yea you know, and now I’ll make Teddy pee on someone. Ha-ha. A lot of it was just messing around.
You could also read into some of it as kind of a childhood thing. Bringing back lost childhood or dealing with issues stemming from childhood before Dad drew me bombers.
T.J. : In one of your recent works, “True”, there is what seems to be a personality survey question asking, “My future seems dark to me. True or False?” Where did this question stem from?
Derek Hess: That’s from the MMPI, which is the Minnesota Multi-faceted Personality Inventory. If people are reading this on your site, I bet a lot of them are familiar with it. If they’re into this kind of stuff, they could be borderline. Ha-ha.
The MMPI is a series of almost 500 True or False questions to find out if you’re crazy or not. Something to find out what kind of mental disorder you might be rocking’. I’ve had to take it twice, once as a juvenile and once as a young adult. I passed.
T.J. : Well yea, you’re still around right?
Derek Hess: Ha yea. I still live, so I guess I wasn’t that bad. When you take it you think, “Wow, they really think I’m crazy.” Ha-ha. It was mandatory in juvenile hall to take the test, so I had no choice in the matter. Anyhow, I got my hands on some of them and cut them up to use in my pieces. You just don’t see questions like, “I hear voices. True or False?” Ha-ha.
T.J. : Have you been able to come across anymore “Rubber Uglies” since putting out the call on your “Horrible That Ate Cleveland” piece?
Derek Hess: Maybe one or two, but Rubber Uglies are really hard to come by. I think the biggest reason is that people just don’t know what they are, but they were also really small and cheap.
T.J. : They were the monster toys back in the day that you could slip on your fingertips right?
Derek Hess: Yea you could do that with some of them.
T.J. : Yea, I remember those. I had a bunch when I was a kid. If I find any I’ll send them your way.
Derek Hess: That would be awesome! I’m always looking for a good Rubber Ugly. Ha-ha.
T.J. : What led you into creating your PLAYBOY cover pieces?
Derek Hess: I think I just felt like taking a break, and getting back to drawing the figure. The PLAYBOYs, going back to the Dad thing, some of the issues are the first ones I had ever seen. I remember one falling on my head when I was digging around in his closet. Ha-ha.
T.J. : Now that’s a great way to discover PLAYBOY.
Derek Hess: Yea, like WOW! It came from heaven. Ha-ha. So I started drawing the figure on them, some from live modeling but mostly from photographs right now. I’m planning on doing some bigger ones by putting a bunch of covers together to create one large canvas, and drawing from live model on that to get some larger pieces. That’s the plan.
It’s always nice to draw from a live figure. It helps to hone your skills. Normally I don’t draw from a live figure, and when I go back to it…it’s a nice refresher course.
T.J. : Have you ever felt that there were specific emotions visual art could better communicate than music or vice versa?
Derek Hess: Yea. I think they can both convey the same message. People are of like minds, because they are living the same experience. I may not know the guy across town, but looking at his work I can say, “Yea I can totally relate to that.” I think a lot of it is definitely shared experiences to create similar messages, but of course each medium has its own unique way of conveying a message.
T.J.: The maturation and progression of your artwork over the past 20+ years has been astounding. Is mixed media your next horizon or do you have other directions in mind as well?
Derek Hess: I really have no direction. Ha-ha.
T.J. : Best way to go in my opinion. Ha-ha.
Derek Hess: I’m just doing what feels right. I’ve got three things going on right now. The PLAYBOY covers that I’m having a lot of fun with. I have my fish pieces where I am drawing sunfish and crappies as WWII bombers…going back to Dad…they are a lot of fun. Although, I’m not sure many people like them.
T.J. : Hey, I’m a big fisherman and I think a lot of other people are too. At least they should be.
Derek Hess: Ah good! I just got a bag of Bullheads in the mail actually.
T.J. : They make good bait.
Derek Hess: Well, I’m keeping them and growing them big. They’re going to keep my fish tank clean.
T.J. : Ahh ok. So you’re a parent rather than a fisherman?
Derek Hess: No I fish too. I want to get a Sheep head for my tank. I’ve got about 150 fish. You know about Sheep head fish right?
T.J. : I don’t actually.
Derek Hess: They’re also called fresh water Drum.
T.J. : That I have heard of.
Derek Hess: Ok. Yea like three years ago I found out that the scientific name for the fish is “Fresh Water Drum”, because we always call them “Sheep head.” They’re kind of an ugly fish and no one seems to keep them. So, I wanted to show it some love and get one for my tank. I just did some Sheep head drawings, but they were too big for the scanner unfortunately.
T.J. : Fish artwork would probably translate well into tattoos don’t you think?
Derek Hess: Yea. Ya know I should get a fish tattoo. I don’t have one of those yet.
T.J. : Do you have any of your own work tattooed?
Derek Hess: Yea I have two pieces. I did three Captain America covers for Marvel, and the image I have is from Captain America #1. It’s on my inner right bicep.
T.J. : I know you don’t accept requests for tattoo work due to time and the sheer number of people who ask, but how do you feel about your fans that send in pictures of your art tattooed on them?
Derek Hess: Oh it’s amazing. I mean come on how flattering is that? They’re from all over! I‘ve gotten them from New Zealand and Iceland. I mean holy shit!
T.J. : Is there a specific tattoo artist you think recreates your work best?
Derek Hess: Ya know, no. Ha-ha. That’s why we have the senders include the name of the artist and the shop. So other people can see how well they handled it if they want an image done too. Some of them are really amazing and true to the art. If I wanted another one of my pieces done, I’d scroll through the images on the site and find the person I felt worked best with the art.
As far as some of the guys who normally tattoo my work, there’s Mike Sirot of Chronic Tattoo in San Diego, CA and Rodney from 252 here in Cleveland. See, now they owe me free tattoos. Ha-ha.
T.J : Ha-ha. That’s the way to get it done. Let’s talk music for a minute. Are there any bands you’re doing poster or album cover work for currently?
Derek Hess: Nothing right now. I did a cover for this band called “Since Yesterday” from Turkey. They are a Muslim hardcore band from Turkey and their record is finally coming out.
T.J. : Wow.
Derek Hess: That’s what I said when they e-mailed me. I was like, “Yea I’ve gotta do this.” The thing was that I’m really into that movie “Zeitgeist”, and I’ve been making these pieces based on Taliban extremists. I’ve been making them into what look like the Bosch monsters, and adding the scarf around their face with AK-47’s and stuff.
They’re images representing how the Taliban extremists are distorting religion for their own means. Obviously, the things they are doing are not what Allah would like done. The same things I’ve done with Christian pieces to show the hypocrisy of what some religious groups have done in the name of God. These things have been going on for centuries.
Anyway, I got this e-mail from “Since Yesterday” that said, “Hey we’re a Muslim hardcore band from Turkey” and I thought oh shit here it comes. Ha-ha. They said that they totally agreed with everything I was saying, the extremists were giving them a bad name and ruining their religion, they loved the movie “Zeitgeist”, and they wanted me to do their album cover. I thought that was really cool. It should be coming out any day now.
The artwork came out really for it. They wanted an image focusing on people being oppressed by religion. So I have all these bodies laying on the ground, and a big fat book crushing them all. Above all of that I have a shadowy figure holding an AK-47. The spine of the book is not facing the viewer so you have to interpret for yourself what religious text it could be.
T.J. : That’s amazing! I can’t wait to see the Album art and here what a Muslim hardcore band sounds like. Any chance the Strhess Tour or StrhessFest might become active again in the future?
Derek Hess: There’s always a chance, but there are no plans right now. I would love to, but just no plans at the moment.
T.J. : Ok fair enough. Strhess Clothing has been your main focus for a little while now anyway hasn’t it?
Derek Hess: It has definitely been a focus. Marty Gerramita, my business partner, has really been aggressively working on it. He’s doing a great job.
T.J. : The new line of Strhess Clothing designs just dropped this month correct?
Derek Hess: Yea. It’s not a huge line, but we released some really cool new stuff at the beginning of June. I think it’s some of the better stuff we’ve put out.
T.J. : What are the biggest obstacles you’ve experienced in the creation of a clothing line?
Derek Hess: For me the biggest issue was the canvas. It’s difficult to change from a traditional canvas to a shirt. Ya know, if it’s a black shirt you need to reverse the lines to white and that sort of thing. It was hard for me to visualize for some reason.
People think, “Well hey, it’s just a shirt…” ya know. Yea, that’s what I thought. Not that easy. Ha-ha.
T.J. : Well I’m sure it’s more difficult for you. Your artwork is extremely detailed, and there’s no way they can screen print all of that.
Derek Hess: Well yea. Name dropping again, Jack Prints does an amazing job for us. They also handle our distribution through IndieMerch store, and I just can’t say enough good things about them.
T.J. : Yea they seem very on top of their work from looking at the site.
Derek Hess: Ya know, they are a couple high school drop-outs. Now they run this multi-million dollar business. All the skater kids who work there have killer benefits, and they are all the nicest guys in the world. They deserve it.
T.J. : Is there anything big coming up for you that we should keep an eye out for?
Derek Hess: Nothing too huge. I just got booked for another show in Hamburg, Germany. I do really well in Germany, I love the country. I wouldn’t mind moving there someday.
T.J. : Where can our readers find your work if they haven’t already immersed themselves in the awesome that is Derek Hess?
Derek Hess: Oh well thank you. Ha-ha. Blush. They can go to my website:
http://www.DerekHess.com/ is the most comprehensive collection of my work. I try to update it as fast as I produce artwork, as long as it fits on my scanner.
T.J. : Thank you Derek Hess for taking the time to speak with us and our readers at BlowtheScene.com. I’m sure they’re going to love this interview.
Derek Hess: Ok yea and thank you!
Find all of Derek Hess’ works and products HERE:
Derek Hess Myspace