In a comment left on a recent post, I was asked to consider doing a blog on the poster art of Derek Hess. So I looked into him. They’re not at all what one might expect. “Dark and intense themes,” his website says. How true.
Hess, born in 1964, got noticed with his fliers for shows. In fact, he was making fliers for underground shows he himself was booking, unknown bands like, oh, Green Day, and Helmet, and the Melvins. Marty Geramita, a gallerist, convinced Hess to try silkscreens. Here’s some of the work he did.
The early 1994 Gwar poster features some of the conventions of what we’ve by now seen as common in gig posters: note, for example, the old Charlie’s Angels image which, for Hess, born in 1964, would have been something from his teenage years. Coupled with the T-Rex skull, it throws it off just that much to make it interesting and unsettling. The price? $300. It is, after all, a limited edition, signed and numbered.
Also from 1994, this Pantera poster is rife with energy, everything you’d expect from an artist classically trained at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies. The figure absolutely bristles with rage.
Here’s a newer poster from 2009 for the band Isis, its minimalist sketching, as if suddenly scrawled on the pavement, demands attention not only for the skeletal bird but the sheets of music splashed, or nearly scraped, with gleaming red. Copies are available for $150.
The style of each of these posters is readily apparent, a roughness fitting for an ode to the ragged flier handed out on the street, a tribute to the grit of the bands themselves. There’s a primitive quality that nods toward the underground scene of Cleveland, hinting at a show that will all but guarantee an initiation into the intensity.
But Hess’s style is not limited to this. This 2006 poster for Fall Out Boy for an outdoor amphitheater in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, though it does contain the violent scrawls rendering a vague figure, winged, at once menacing and pained, is also on a far more orderly backdrop: the geometries of the circle, the halo, and the triumvirate of triangles, all contained in the subtle cosmological sun symbol, provides a counterpoint that offers perhaps a solace, a stability to that which lies in conjunction with it. It’s haunting. The colors are cool, their temperature rendered only by the thin bands of red lettering. And it’s available for a mere $30.
As a final look, consider Hess’s take on the classic icon of Rush. We’ve seen the image on t-shirts, album covers, and so on, and Hess transforms it into something far more suggestive, perhaps even less sentimental than the original Rush design. The figure’s pose is maintained, but he is rendered to the simplest of etchings. And that famous pentagram he stands before is now circled with the zodiac (I’m reminded here of some of the work of Mike King, with his nod to mystic Kabbalist iconography).
Visit Derek Hess’s website to see more work and to learn more about the artist. Though much of the work is sold out, much, too, is available.