A Mightier Pen

World Renowned artist Derek Hess Visits Dayton

By Tim Anderl

When asked about the permanent inclusion of his art in the most visited art museum in the world, France’s the Louvre, and Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland-based artist Derek Hess swells with pride.

“When they approached me, I was floored and totally flattered,” Hess said.  “When other artists boast about what museums their art is displayed in I think, ‘The Louvre…I’ve got trump, five aces, top that!’  And then to be included in the coolest museum (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) ever is incredible too.  And I never intended to be in either.”

Another source of pride for Hess is his latest book, Black Line White Lie, which Hess will show off during a book signing at Dayton’s Press on February 11.  The book features art Hess created from 1990 to 2011.  During the signing, Hess plans to exhibit pen and ink drawings that complement the content of the book, and will offer prints for sale.

Black Line White Lie, which hit the streets via his own STRHESS PRESS in late November 2011, features over 275 black and white images by Hess created over the past twenty years of his career as a creator of rock and roll posters, commercial pieces and politically-charged fine art. This book covers black and white drawings from his earliest fliers to some of his more recent works like “Cancer of the Soul” and “Valentine.”

Music fans are sure to recognize Hess’ work.  Upon returning to Cleveland in the early ‘90s, following a brief stint at The Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Hess continued studies in fine art print-making at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  At the same time, he was promoting concerts at the Euclid Tavern and his promotional fliers, which featured drawings playing off a band’s name and genre, quickly began gaining the attention of bands, fans, as well as his future business partner, Marty Garamita.

As a result of the attention, Hess’ art took off.  To date, he has been featured on numerous album covers — he’s created art for well-know bands like Deftones, Thursday and Taking Back Sunday.  He has also been featured on TLC, MTV, Fuse, VH1, and in Alternative Press, Spin and Juxtapoz magazines.  In recent years however, Hess has veered away from the flier work that many fans first fell in love with.
“People were pissed at first, but I was starting to become complacent with it.  I didn’t want to make art that I wasn’t happy with, because I knew people wouldn’t be happy with it either.  Any opportunity for growth that had once been there was just gone.”

Hess said he created the STRHESS clothing line to accommodate fans looking for an affordable way of collecting his pieces.  Hess also made one recent exception, putting pen to paper for a flier for Melt Bar and Grilled’s fifth anniversary.  The restaurant is owned by a former Euclid Tavern regular and Cleveland musician Matt Fish (Whatever, Chargers Street Gang, Lives of the Saints).

“Who doesn’t love a good grilled cheese?” Hess asked.  “Matt Fish has three locally-owned, ‘mom and pop’ type restaurants.  I couldn’t help but support that kind of thing.”

Though Hess is a friendly and calm conversationalist, he can get fired up too.  When a mention of his Wikipedia page reveals that he’s linked to the page for something called the “Lowbrow” art movement, he’s agitated.  “The term ‘lowbrow’ lowers expectations.  That sounds like they’re describing the art associated with the ‘movement’ as ‘not-as-good’ art, or ‘might-be-good, but probably not’ art.  I’m not willing to volunteer myself for that.”

Hess describes his distinctive, technically complex pieces as figurative, pen and ink-based, emotive art.  “Some of my art is light, like an angel drinking from a martini glass while he’s peeing, but some of it is heavy.  It explores feelings of spiritual disconnection, isolation, and disconnection from society.”

“A lot of society today is soul sick.  Even those who don’t think they are, like religious evangelicals or fanatics, are soul sick.  They’re distorting the messages in their religions for their own gains.  I think you can see my position in some of my work — I’m more of the ‘God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ kind of guy.”

Hess has dedicated the 300 page book to his fans, one of which is the reason he’s coming to Dayton before he visits larger cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Orange County’s MusInk tattoo convention and music festival later this year.  Hess said he met fan Jessica Hill, a Daytonian, in an online forum discussing his work, and according to Hess, “She’s kick-ass!”  The chance meeting resulted in a friendship and a previous 2008 trip to Dayton for signing events at Paccia and Truth and Triumph Tattoos in support of his book Please God Save Us.

In addition to hard-bound editions of Black Line White Lie, Hess has released a spiral bound version of the tome, largely because the book features about 70 pages of pictures of tattoos his line drawings have inspired. This version is designed to accommodate tattoo artists who can copy pages for body art.

“I’m incredibly flattered that people have had my work tattooed on their bodies,” said Hess.  Although Hess only has one of his own pieces tattooed on his skin (his popular “Hemorrhage” piece), he’s chosen to emblazon his skin with some of his own inspirations — Captain America drawings from the “silver age” of comics, and WWII tanks and airplanes.

Hess’ father, an artist and WWII B26 pilot, drew another of his favorite tattoos on the back of a flight test.  This piece, which featured a WWII battle scene, was applied during an episode of LA Ink in which Hess appeared.

Hess also promises that those attending the February 11 event will have the opportunity for a special meet-and-greet with another distinguished guest.  He promises that his dog Jose, a Pomeranian mix that emblazons each page of his website, will also make the trek to Dayton.

The Black Line White Lie book signing takes place at Press, located at 257 Wayne Avenue, Dayton, on February 11 from 6pm until 9:30pm.  For more information about Hess, visit http://www.derekhess.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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