Interview: Derek Hess

One of my goals this year was to have an article I did featured in a magazine.  I achieved that goal earlier this year with help from Cleveland artist Derek Hess.  He was kind enough to answer some questions and the article first appeared on DeviantNation.com (NSFW 18+).  To my surprise I submitted the article to a music magazine and it appeared in a June 2008 issue of Hails And Horns.  I was thrilled to have the article take up three pages of a metal magazine that was in color.  The issue is now a back issue now but I am sure you can grab a copy on Interpunk.com.

I thought I would post it here for anyone interested:

Derek Hess print "Burnt Out"
Derek Hess "Burned Out"

Derek Hess is one hell of an artist.  Throughout the years, this pro-Cleveland resident has created some memorable works of drawings, CD cover art, and even concert fliers that have art collectors going mad.  His work is commonly known through the music and tattoo scene and is even featured at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Louvre in Paris.

The easiest way to describe his art is to see it for yourself with help from the Derek Hess website.  His art is a little dark and a little ingenious.  Some works are dark lines morphed into faceless humans holding bleeding hearts while others show more empathy and detail.

Many bands have had the privilege to have Derek Hess’ art grace the covers of their CDs.  His  art showcases have traveled the globe entertaining many.  There really is not anyone quite like him.

Not only has he has great success with his drawing abilities but Derek Hess also launched the successful clothing line Sthress Clothing and even helped formulate the Sthress Fest music festival.

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Derek Hess.  He was more than kind to answer some questions I have been pondering over for quite some time.


Derek Hess "Noose Proof"
Derek Hess "Noose Halo"

First and foremost, I am just curious how you got your start as an artist.

I booked a club here in Cleveland [called] the Euclid tavern from 1989 through 1995.  At the same time I was studying printmaking at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  Since the shows were my responsibility, I started making fliers to promote them, which then became prints.  The two came together beautifully, the union of two of my favorite things, music and art.

Do you have any artist influences that helped motivate you?

My father, Heinrich Kley, and Gil Kane all were big influences on my art.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up?  Were you into the music scene as a kid in Cleveland?

Metal.  I was born in 1964, so when I turned 13 it was the big three: Kiss, Queen, and Aerosmith  (only up to draw the line), which then lead to Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, UFO, Judas Priest, AC/DC, [Led] Zeppelin, etc…  I was into the scene here when I got a little older, mostly the metal scene, then in the mid-eighties there was an awesome crossover scene where the metal kids and the hardcore kids would attend both shows.  One night I might be at a Voivod or Raven show, and then the next night Circle Jerks or the Dead Kennedy’s.

I remember when I was a kid seeing your concert flyers of your work posted all over the concert venues and coffee shops (Arabica coffee house in Coventry).  Most notably Cop Shoot Cop and Helmet stick out the most to me when I think back.  How were you able to create these posters for these now classic artists?

Those were shows I booked at the euc [Euclid Tavern].

When did the concert flyers become less of an advertisement and more of an art?  How did this come to be?

It [fliers] happened in the 60’s with the psychedelic posters.  The counter culture at the time was just that, counter the culture, so they made the poster works of art to go against the gain of strict graphics.

You seemed to have kept a low key for a while and soon your artwork exploded all over the music and art scene.  Can you tell me a particular piece you drew that possibly gained you a lot of attention?

I guess there were several things, a story in Newsweek in the early 90’s, the Louvre [in France] requesting a body of my work around the same time, the grand opening concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame poster, and the two Converge CD cover[s] are a few that come to mind.

Speaking of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Louvre in Paris, some of your artwork is showcased at both locations.  How does it feel to have your work on display at these two impressive museums?

Well, very honored and lucky.

Seriously, what has kept you in Cleveland all these years?  Seems to me when people get big in this area they usually pack up and leave.

I’m pro Cleveland.  The people here are real, most tours stop here, and the Browns have no logo on their helmets.  They play on natural turf in an open air stadium on the shores of Lake Erie in the elements as it should be.  I’ve been to many places, but nowhere else I’d like to live, except Germany, Switzerland, Detroit, and Omaha.

Derek Hess "Hemorrhage"
Derek Hess "Hemorrhage"

One thing I have always admired about you is your prices for your work seem to be affordable.  I have been to recent shows and have purchased posters for a mere $15.  Friends of mine have gotten actual prints for less than $300.   Not that I am complaining, but why do you sell your work for so cheap?

I feel art should be available to the masses.  Not everyone has the money to purchase big ticket items but they still want a piece of art.  Prints only cost so much to produce and artist that charge huge prices for prints and posters are being unfair to the buyer.

Your art has also become a staple in the tattoo community.  How does it feel to have your artwork become a permanent piece on someone’s body?

Extremely flattering.

Speaking of flattering, you were voted one of Cleveland’s sexiest men of 2007.  Any thoughts on that?

Yeah, must have been slim pickings last year.

Your clothing line Strhess is amazing and I see a lot of people including myself sporting it.  How did the idea for a clothing line come about?  How does it feel to run into someone on the street wearing your art?

We realized not everyone could afford $200 for a print or even $50 for a print so we wanted to develop something that was in a price range that everyone could afford.  It always feels good to see someone wearing Strhess [clothing], but at the same time I can’t… like… it’s a little weird…ha ha.

You helped illustrate some comic books in the past.  Can you give me a little incite of how that came to be?

I’ve only done three covers for Captain America which was a huge honor since he’s been my all time favorite [super hero].  They [Marvel] came to me about the job which was really cool.  Apparently one of the Marvel guys saw an interview I did in a tattoo magazine and they showed one of my cap [Captain America] tattoos, so he hit me up.

Aside from creating prints and shirts you also have drawn out CD covers for bands.  What are some of your favorites?  I myself dig the Converge cover you did.

Yeah, I like that Converge one too.  The first Murder Your Darlings from 2005 [is another].  I’m pretty happy with the In Flames one too.

Derek Hess Flyer
Derek Hess "Clutch Flyer"

Do you still do artwork for any bands?  Can you tell me who you may have recently worked with?

Yeah, but I really haven’t been doing posters much anymore.  I’m working on a CD cover right now for Since Yesterday, they’re a hardcore band from Turkey.

You actually had some of your artwork banned by Wal-Mart.  I believe it was the Methods Of Mayhem CD cover art?  How was it working with Tommy Lee?

It was very cool, and Tommy was the easiest client to work for.   Everything I sent him he was all about [with] no changes.  They [Tommy and crew] were “off the hook, go with it”.

You seem to surround yourself around the emo, hardcore, indie scene.  What is it about those genres of music you like so much?

Well, it’s fresh (or was when it started).   The content of the music is solid, as is the presentation.

What was it like to be on LA Ink?  Did you see more people checking out your website after that episode premiered?

It was cool.  I was a little weirded out having my shirt off for the country to see….maybe I’ll get some modeling jobs out of it 😉  The web site did get a ton of hits the night it aired and the MySpace page got like 600 new friend requests.  TV is good.

Photo by
Photo by Eric Mull for ClevelandMagazine.Com

You have a lot of art shows worldwide these days at various galleries, where was your first overseas show and how did it turn out?


May of 1999 in Hamburg, and it was great.  I’ve always done well in Germany.  You can check out all shows, past, present, and future in chronological order in my exhibits page (off of my news page) on www.derekhess.com.

What is next for Derek Hess?

We have several books in the works, and [will] continue to do the gallery shows.

If someone has never heard of you, Derek Hess before, how would you describe your artwork to them?

Overrated.

For more info on Derek Hess visit www.derekhess.com

For more info on the new Derek Hess book or to order it visit StrhessPress.Com

4 thoughts on “Interview: Derek Hess”

  1. Thanks for sharing this great article with one of Cleveland’s finest. I am so proud he is from Cleveland. I too discovered his work via flyers for the euc back in the day.

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