From concert posters to politically charged fine art pieces, Cleveland-based artist Derek Hess has tested the waters of both the music and art world for over 15 years.
“I’m lucky to have had the sense to take responsibility for the artistic ability I was given,” Hess says. “I’ve been able to develop it and grow.”
Growth, in general, has been an unwavering theme throughout both Hess’ personal and professional life. From a young age, Hess was transfixed by his father Roy’s ability to create on paper the images of planes and tanks that his son had swimming in his head.
“My father was a World War II veteran as well as an artist and the head of the industrial design department at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I remember him coming home from work and drawing the war scenes I had concocted in my head just like I described to him.”
In addition to his father’s artistic ability, Hess also inherited his desire to make a living from art. Beginning his career as a student at the ClA, Hess than transferred to The Center for Creative Studies in Detroit to focus on graphic design and illustration before settling in on a major in fine art print-making and subsequently moving back to Cleveland and returning to CIA and their strong print-making program.
Always a fan of music, Hess began booking shows at the Euclid Tavern, a staple for cover bands and blues at the time. Hess soon began to curtail the format of the bands being brought to the tavern into something he liked and was comfortable with. He also started creating the promotional flyers for the shows using his own unique vision and a play off the bands names and genre.
“Music is something that inspires me and something that I connect with,” Hess said. “I try to capture the essence of whatever the band I’m working with are trying to say or just the mood and the common thread that the bands have within the same style of music that I may be relating to.”
In 1993, while still booking bands at the Euclid Tavern, Hess’ flyers caught the eye of Marty Geramita, who suggested that Hess turn his flyers into a business venture. In the years immediately following, Hess, with Geramita as his manager, garnered the attention of countless bands as well as both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the infamous Louvre in Paris, who both have Hess’ art in their permanent collection.
In addition to posters for bands such as Pantera, Thursday, Pink Floyd and Pearl Jam, Hess has also created CD covers for bands like Motion City Soundtrack and Unearth. He has also been featured on television show and in magazines - MTV, Fuse, VH1, Alternative Press and Juxtapose as well as many others.
More recently, Hess started a clothing line, Strhess, as well as Hessfest and the Strhess Tour, a collaboration of music and art that features bands such as Thursday, Shadow’s Fall, Stretch Arm Strong and Taking Back Sunday.
While the clothing company and the tour gain notoriety and popularity, Hess’ main focus is still art. In addition to the work he continues to do for bands, Hess also participates in art shows both across the United States and around the world that show his skill as a fundamentally sound artist, which he stresses, is the key to being successful.
“My advice for anyone who wants to get involved with drawing based art: learn the fundamentals of drawing. This way you don't have to worry about how to draw something, your energy can be spent on what to draw. Content with confidence of your ability to execute it.”
Hess’ aptitude to convey his work through this showcase of fundamentals has helped take him from an artist who was known for his poster art to one who now works mainly on his fine-art pieces using pen and ink, acrylic paint and silk screen prints with hand made separations.
“I actually do very little poster art anymore, if any,” Hess said. “I’ve been able to develop and mature as an artist and people have been very accepting of the progression.”
Hess’ art has been able to transcend genres as well as generations, which is icing on the cake for the artist. “At the end of the day I’d like, ideally, for all of my art to be technically sound. That, to me, is what makes a successful artist.”