3RD WHEEL Magazine Interview

 In Interviews

A Great mag out of the U.K. requested an interview with Jermaine during SxSW. Unfortunately, truckloads of work kept Jermaine stuck at home in Houston, far away from SxSW (about 3 hours away). But everyone was able to adjust, and Clive Barens and his cute little friend Wendy Allistre were able to make the short trip down to Houston and hang out with Jermaine for a day. Sometime during that hectic day, the following interview happened. – from JermaineRogers.com circa 2002.

‘JERMAINE ROGERS: Unplugged’

‘The Straight Dope On One Of The Hottest Poster Artists In The Biz’

Interview by C. Barens / Photos by W. Allistre

Rock-and-Roll poster artist Jermaine Rogers lives with all the trappings of the ‘alternative-artist’ lifestyle: an apartment in the bohemian area of Houston, Texas where he first established his ‘poster artist’ reputation. The walls of his apartment are covered with vintage travel and propaganda posters from the 1930s, as well as original Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes film posters. Several rooms are littered with art supplies, computer equipment, stacks of posters, old toys, tons of cd’s, and literally piles of books. The subjects of these books range from that of 16th century art-theory to the illustrated exploits of ‘Calvin & Hobbes’. ‘Jen says we have too much stuff in here,’ says Jermaine, speaking of his wife of one year. Then there are the comic books. Stacks of them. Boxes of them. ‘They’re all old comics. I don’t think there’s anything newer than 1993 in there,’ he says while looking at the boxes of comics in a hallway closet. ‘I might start reading new stuff, soon. Maybe there’s some new art style I can steal.’

One wonders if that will ever be necessary. Jermaine Rogers is doing quite well using his own ‘style’. Although he began his career as an artist to ‘address some real issues’ he was dealing with in life, he was lured into the world of concert poster production by the ‘freedom of expression, ambition, and money’. Rogers explains, ‘I was looking around and watching people literally killing themselves to pay the bills. You know, I watched my parents really work hard just so we could be reasonably comfortable…and I didn’t want to do that. Im like, if I can just draw whatever I want and just let my mind go on things important or trivial…whatever. If I can do that AND get paid enough to just cover the bills, then that’s the way for me. And seriously, man…THAT’S what it’s been about for me. As long as the bills are paid, Im satisfied. Anything past that is extra. And that in itself is really cool.’

Rogers has created posters for literally hundreds of concerts and bands, including such acts as The Melvins, Radiohead, Built To Spill, and Tool. He’s also done work on over 25 CD covers, dozens of t-shirt designs, and has taken on an equally impressive amount of corporate commissions. ‘That stuff is no fun, but it pays. It funds that stuff that is so cool to do but pays nothing.’

His posters are notable examples of the genre. His work has been called ‘thinking man’s art’, and the topics addressed in many of his posters make bold statements in a very ambiguous manner. ‘Im all about tackling issues in a way that totally throws you off. I want people to see between the lines, so to speak. Really bring something of themselves to my work. You know, the artwork…the actual illustrations are only half of it. I pride myself on creating text that compliments the imagery. The way you use words can be what gets a problematic or mediocre illustration over the hump, you know? And if you can do both, a really tight illustration and text that makes people stop and think…man, that’s what it’s all about. Many times, you mention my posters and people are like, ‘Oh, cool..’ You know. Like, whatever. But then you mention a particular image, like the Tool poster from 1998, or the Radiohead thing from last year, and they’re like, ‘Wow! YOU did that one!?’

Did you do anything this year for SxSW?:

Yea. I did a couple of things. One thing was a shirt design for this really cool electronic band called Sway. I think they sold the shirts during their performance at SxSW. I also did a poster for a line-up at EMO’s that featured The Promise Ring, Schatzi, Luna and Seaworthy. That’s it. I didn’t accept many SxSW jobs this year. I was so busy with stuff I already had accepted.

Do you still make it out to a lot of shows these days?:

Unfortunately, no. The sad fact is that I just get so busy, and sometimes I just don’t know when to stop and take a break. Back in the day, I used to go to every show I did a poster for locally…at least most of them. But, I guess Im just getting old. I mean, sometimes I just don’t have the motivation anymore, you know? I still love music and all that, but I can really zone out by just grabbing a CD and riding around in my truck listening to it. But, I do make it out to some good shows occasionally. I’ve just got so many things on my plate, and my mind is a lot more ‘leased out’ to different ideas and activities.

You speak about the old days: how did you really get started in the business?:

Well, after I left my old job to pursue a career in this, I realized that I was gonna have to lose a lot of my expenses real fast. I had done roughly 30 or 40 posters ‘on the side’ before then, but it was just like a hobby at that point. My ‘day job’ was paying the bills. I don’t suggest that anyone with bills and rent and stuff just drop their jobs to ‘be an artist’ without first really thinking it through. I was working a pretty sweet little job, as far as pay goes. So, I had to sell my Mustang, which still hurts all these many years later. I really had to start pinching pennies, you know? Because I had to jumpstart the whole deal out of my own pocket. I started calling venues that I had worked with in the past, like Number’s, here in Houston. I got shows that way, early on. It paid very little, but when grouped together, you had just enough to get by. The Houston market was sort of dead at this point, so I moved to Seattle.

That must’ve been really cool. Seattle was quite the music mecca, I guess?:

Well, when I went up there the whole ‘grunge’ thing had died. Things were really stagnant up there, too. But there was this kind of ‘indie’ thing happening…like a new folk music movement. I really started to get into bands like Quasi, Built To Spill, Elliot Smith, etc. You know, that whole ‘sound’. Doing flyers for bands like this was great, too. The music lent itself to various interpretations. A band like Quasi makes music that is very melodious and beautiful and very, very dark at the same time. That leaves a whole lot of space to play with when you’re coming up with an image.

So, Seattle is a pretty good set of memories?:

Dude, I guess. In some ways, it was the worst of times. I mean, I was living in a hole of an apartment, eating a couple times a day, and doing a lot of walking and bus-riding all over that city. When you cant find work, it’s very depressing. And when you’re dealing with a lot of personal stuff on top of that, life can really suck. Seattle was good for me, though. I originally went up there with what I thought was a pretty solid ‘job’ waiting for me at a printing shop, which went hand in hand with my poster plans. As soon as I got there, that fell through. A lot of things fell through, and I ended up in places I didnt want to be in. So, it was sink or swim at that point. The time alone was good. Up in the dark and rainy northwest, I was able to kind of corral my life back in, you know. Things had REALLY gotten out of hand over the previous years, and it was my fault. When I moved back to Texas from Seattle, dude…I was hardcore focused on all levels: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Some of the guys I worked with when I got back in town were rubbed a little bit the wrong way by this, I think. But, I was just really focused and was all about business and no bull. I didn’t have time to ‘play the game’, and that helped me in my career as an artist.

How so?:

Well, when you’re well-known enough for them to be interested but still ‘small’ enough for them to jack you around, then you have to be all about business. You’ve got to know what you’re doing. You have to be honest with yourself and evaluate your abilities. And then you have to charge people what you’re worth. You also can’t be starstruck when you deal with these rock bands. Some of those guys will use that, you know? They’ll expect you to be doing tons of work for them for nothing. Or, for tickets…or some crap like that. So, you’ve got to look at it as a business, to some degree. Your prices should be paid, but they should be in reasonable proximity of your talent. Your talent is your asset. So, you have to work at it. Learn different printing methods. Ask other artists or printers what works for them. Read, read, read. And I mean not just reading the technical ‘how to’ stuff, but books on art history and different artists. Get books on the history of posters, on the early modern-art movements, and on the artists you’ve always heard about but never really studied. All of this helps you to really understand what has worked in the past. People don’t change. The same things that have touched people in the past will still do so today. You just have to put your own ‘stink’ on it, you know?

So, you did all of this on your own? No ‘agency representation’?:

No. All by myself. Maybe some sort of agent would’ve helped things happen a lot faster. I didn’t want to be paying some guy to do something I could do on my own. Its all about just not being lazy. Hit the streets and hit the phones. Mail out packages. You’re going to learn so much by just ‘doing it’ over time. Years give experience. I remember my mindset early on, years ago. And I was so, so idealistic about a lot of things…and I learned the awful truth about people in the business and how the business works and how you have to adjust in many ways if you’re going to be someone who is visible. Above all, I learned to shut my moth and LISTEN to people. Too many artists have this pride thing, you know. You can’t tell them anything. But talking to people who have done it is priceless. Anyone that you think could help you toward your goal, sit down with them and talk about it. These days, that is super easy for younger artists to do. With the Internet, you can communicate personally with so many people. The ability to talk with poster artists who have been doing work for years is a real privilege. There’s this website called Gigposters.com (http://www.gigposters.com/), for instance. It’s like a hub for concert poster artists and fans. On any given day, you might get a chance to speak with Emek or Mark Arminski or Jeff Kleinslith. Tons of great artists. Forbes, Jeff Wood, Art Chantry…just a huge list of talent that stops by this site regularly to talk about really heavy stuff and really trivial stuff. I’ve gone on there and had really great conversations with ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ artists…and it’s cool, because in that forum, ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ isn’t a factor. If you produce, you’re an artist. Period. A young artist just starting out these days has an amazing, invaluable tool in that website. The entire internet is a valuable tool for a ‘starving artist’. Use it!

Yes, I’ve been to the GIGPOSTERS website myself. Very interesting conversations. I’ve seen a few choice skirmishes there, also… :

Yea. Artists are feisty, you know. People submit their poster art there and sometimes don’t realize that if you put it in a public forum, you’re asking for criticism. And sadly, many people don’t understand the term ‘constructive criticism’, so you get a lot of hurt feelings. I personally don’t believe in publicly destroying someone’s artwork, but if you put yourself out there don’t be pissed when people are ready to stick a knife in your work, you know. I’ve been told that my stuff sucks, that my ‘line-art’ technique sucks, that my color selection sucks, etc, etc. Whatever. You have to ask yourself why you’re doing this and who for. For other artists? For the ‘poster community’? The only folks Im really into pleasing is the client, myself, and that strange circle of poor individuals who get off on my stuff. That’s it. If you take the time to wince and moan everytime someone throws a jab at you, you’re going to wear out fast. That’s really important to remember, I think. If you’re getting into any field of art which will be available to the public, grow a tough skin. People WILL take shots as your rep grows. Learn to see where the shots are coming from and realize the real motives. Many times, it’s jealousy…pure and simple. It’s like I’ve had people say that when I create imagery of famous people, like Lennon or Cobain, that Im ‘cashing in’ on pop personalities. Like, ‘its not REAL art if you don’t create it on your own’. So, when I use the teddy bear characters, something I created, then I get flack for that. So, you know…it’s a battle you’ll never win. Do your artwork for YOU. I always feel that if people ‘get’ what you do, that’s just like a bonus..

Sounds like you’ve grown that thick ‘skin’ that other artists I’ve spoken with always develop. I interviewed Stan Trejean and he said, ‘The insults make me stronger,’…: Yea, it’s totally like that. If someone takes the time to tell me or to post on some internet board how much I really suck, it just sticks me back out there into the light. And, straight up, when I do a poster and offer it for sale, it still sells. And it usually sells out, eventually. Chalk it up to people stupid enough to like my stuff, or whatever. If that’s how you feel, leave us stupid people alone in our little corner and go support somebody else’s thing…you know? More of my ‘critics’ would have much more peaceful, stress-free lives if they realized that I really do not care what they think of me or my artwork. Dude, there’s a lot of jealousy among some of these artists. It’s so stupid. You can try and live in this little bubble, or whatever, but you realistically MUST come in contact with others in the industry. You’ve got to make sure that your work is still somewhat relative, you know? That means getting out in the water from time to time. But, you don’t know how close I’ve come to just hanging it all up in the last year. Just selling all the backstock, moving to some little town, getting a regular little job and just totally disappearing from the ‘art scene’.

That’s going to come as a shock to many people who are fans of your work. : 

It might. Maybe not. You know, it just gets old. And the business aspects of this thing are really tiring for me to deal with, but I’d never turn my deal over lock-stock-&-barrel to some agent. I’ve got to control my own thing, you know. And then, the petty stuff that you encounter in this business…you have no idea. I guess it’s that way in any field. But a lot of what I deal with is all gloss, you know? It’s not real. And people are only about the dollars. Bottom line, that’s all the majority of these people care about. It’s the one thing they are genuinely interested in. The art? Whatever. They could care less about the art on any other level than a financial one. Does it sell? That’s it. That’s why, seriously, the only people I really, really care about in this work, other than myself, are the people who buy these posters I do. You know, THAT’S such a gracious act to me. Spending their hard-earned, real-world jack on my stuff. There are so many really great styles out there, and they voluntarily choose mine as one of a few that they’ll give their money to. Like Degas said, when people do that for your work…THAT’S substantial. That is a ‘trust’.

Speaking of ‘styles’, how would you define your ‘style’?:

I go through phases, like many other artists. You do something for a while, and then you start to get restless and look for something new. As I continue to live, I guess the artwork or the ‘style’ is just a reflection of that. There was a period when I had gotten a rep for doing really weird, dark imagery. Much of that wasn’t because of content, but because of my inking style: very heavy on the blacks. So, that was really inadvertent. And, honestly, I guess some of it WAS content. When you’re depressed all of the time, you won’t be drawing puppies and flowers, you know? As I got to be a better artist, I think I started to be known more as one of the solid ‘illustrators’ in this field. Studying what others are doing really helps. I can’t deny that comic book artwork was the foundation of my ‘technique’, but as you learn about other artists, you branch out. Your ‘style’ mixes with something else, and all of a sudden there’s this new look. Through all of this, I think the ideology in my posters remains a focal point. I like to say things with words, so it’s no big deal for me to write a paragraph and include it on the poster with the image. They work together.

And now you’ve gotten more into painting, according to your website?:

Yes. I’ve always painted a bit on the side, but I’ve really started painting a lot, lately.

Which mediums do you prefer?:

Right now, literally everything but oils. I’m just not set up to deal with all the chemicals…the turpentine and all that. I can use acrylics and watercolors and all that pretty easily with not much of a mess. All of the pieces I’ve sold have been acrylics. That’s just one of the reasons Im looking for a new place to move to that is big enough to have a workspace on site with all that I’d need to really get into some heavy, large-scale painting.

Your CLUTCH poster was simply stunning. The painting you used was a very beautiful one.:

Thanks. That was an acrylic painting, actually. I called it ‘Red’, because of the woman’s overpowering hair, you know? I want to do more of that, but in screenprinted form. That poster was an offset thing, and right now Im talking with different people about an easy way to screenprint the paintings.

How would you describe your painting ‘style’?:

I don’t know. Dude, I just paint. You know. I guess I’m really into the whole ‘symbolist’ thing. Vincent Van Gogh talked about painting what you feel and not always what you see, and I tend to adopt that ethic. I think most people have seen enough of my sketches and linework and even a few of my paintings, enough to know that I could illustrate and paint very realistically if I wanted to. I really like that stuff, too. I look at the work of Drew Struzan, for instance (Struzan has painted many of the official Star Wars film posters). That stuff is so beautiful and amazing. I like looking at it, but I don’t think I could paint that way. I really can connect with someone like Van Gogh and his method. I’ve painted some amazing things in a day. One day. Really complicated things that just flowed out of me. I want to put very little thought into my paintings. That sounds bad, but I want it to flow naturally, not just in technique but also in concept. I get a basic idea, rough it out with charcoal on the artboard or canvas, and just start throwing down paint.

Have your paintings attracted any new fans?:

Yea. That’s the great thing. I hung a few of my things in a gallery here in town, and all but 2 of them sold. And, they sold to these very…well, they weren’t ‘poster people’. You know what I mean? The people that bought these had like no idea who I was. They were like the 60 year old, new-agers who thought that the stuff was beautiful. All of the paintings are things I just do for myself. There’s something about them. Maybe it’s the ‘symbolist’ quality or whatever. Obviously, they’re more acceptable to that ‘fine art’ crowd. For one thing, when you look at them they are obviously NOT illustrations, and illustrations are really looked down on in the ‘fine art’ world. There’s still the perception among the older ‘fine art’ crowd that concert poster-art is NOT adult material. It’s slowly changing, but it’s going to be very gradual.

So, you’re now taking on the label of ‘painter’. What else do you want to do?:

I really don’t want the label of ‘painter’. I don’t really want the label of ‘poster artist’. I’m an artist. That implies so much. There’s so much that I want to do. Im not going to front with you: posters and concert stuff…all that…it’s just an avenue to get to places I really want to be. I’ve sort of jumped a ride on this train and use posters to get people’s attention, so they’ll know I’m here. And, I’m using the reputation of these bands along with the artwork to further my ambitions. I shamelessly say that, because no one is getting the raw end in this deal. Everyone wins. I’ve actually heard some critics saying that it isn’t fair to the bands we do posters for…you know, the fact that we artists do these posters and sell them and all that. And that is the biggest load of crap in the world. Anyone who’ll tell you with a straight face that the bands don’t benefit as much as we do oughta be a politician. They benefit big-time. Not only by promotion of whatever event the poster is promoting, but in ‘street-cred’ and all of that. It’s why a big band like PEARL JAM will spend the dollars to create concert posters for sold out shows. They’re smart. And to date, the record labels obviously don’t mind, because they LET concert poster artists exist. If they wanted to crush this genre out of existence…I mean, on paper, they could. Then EVERYTHING would be underground. But, they know better. That’s why me and every other poster artist who’s worked a while will tell you that these guys KNOW who we are and what we do. THEY give us jobs. I’ve been hired by labels to do posters, and they’ve got ‘unofficial’ posters that I’ve done framed and hanging on the walls of their offices. It’s a big game, and you play at your own risk. I do see the whole concert poster thing becoming much more privatized, though.

Why do you think that?:

Because people are making too much money on it. And I don’t mean the artists. I’m talking about cats out there in the ‘public market’ after-selling tons of product every month. Primarily on EBAY. EBAY is a blessing and a curse, dude. It helped raise this industry to new heights, but I think it’s going to kill this industry, to. There’s too much inferior, quality-free product out there. It’s representing these bands, you know? Can you imagine what it would be like to be in a band and see a really poor knock-off-job of a poster advertising you…and like, selling everyday on EBAY for weeks at a time? EBAY is so much of a great thing, but irresponsible people will use it to really hurt this industry. I mean, it already has.

How so?:

Well, personally I’ve had values on some of my posters pummeled into the ground by relentless EBAY posting. Certain people just don’t care. It’s all about the dollars to them. And, they don’t mind over-exposing your once ‘valuable’ poster and milking it for all it’s worth. That pisses me off. And all of those EBAY dealers should know that because of the stupid actions of the few, all of them will suffer. Because ALL of the poster artists I’ve talked with about EBAY feel the same way. I think that dealers should communicate with the artists and really find out their opinions on how they should sell. That sounds unreasonable to some people, but it’s how I believe things should be done. Then, everyone is on the same page.

How are you dealing with it?:

Over the course of this year, you’ll see. I’ve got things planned. A lot of my posters won’t even be available to those dealers. Slowly, I’ve already been able to isolate some of the ‘problems’. And, I’m doing more selling from my website (http://www.JermaineRogers.com). Later this Spring, we’re also going to establish a presence on EBAY. We will be doing the majority of the selling of my rare stuff. Original proofs, uncuts, art, paintings, all of it. Last year, I sold a LOT of original artwork through a friend of mine on EBAY.That will be great.

Speaking of your website, I was browsing it weeks ago and came upon some disturbing news. What’s this I hear of you killing off your beloved Teddy Bear characters?:

(rolling his eyes) Man, it always comes back to teddy bears. Yea, Im slowly going to phase them out and introduce these new characters that will take their places. It’s rough though, because people really like that stuff and it’s made me a lot of dough. So, I guess it’s kind of a stupid move, too.

Those bears are absolutely the hot thing back home (in the U.K.). When you did the ‘StripMined’ promotion and used the bears in the promo materials, everyone was absolutely thrilled.: Yea. That thing was fun to do. The bears go over really well all over. It’s nuts in Japan. Every poster I do with the bears, literally 50% of the run ends up with collectors in Japan. Seriously. Even here at home, I was recently hired by the Houston Press to do all of the artwork for their Music Awards this summer. It’s a really big deal here in Texas, and a lot of visibility and all that. So, I’m geeked at having the opportunity to show off some new things and all that. Well, what do you think THEY wanted? So, teddy bears will be all over that. But, these new characters are really sweet. They will have something to do with the bears. I’m waaay too into this, huh?

Yes, you are! What do the new characters look like?:

Well, they’re these little, dwarfish guys. They’ve got really big heads and weird eyes and are really mongoloid in appearance. They all have a little thing like a micro-chip implanted right on their heads. They really look weird. You’ll see one soon.

Well, it’s good to keep changing.:

Exactly. I have to keep moving. I think some very well-known artists in this field have fallen into ruts and can’t get out. There are some really talented guys that are like ‘one trick ponies’, you know? They do ONE thing and they do it well. But, that’s it. So, Im really trying to avoid that. You know, I’ve already got people out there who think my work really sucks, anyway. Maybe changing is a good thing.

Well, those folks are absolutely in the minority, because you are one of the hottest artists in the field.:

Yea. That’s really nice. But, so what…you know? Tomorrow it’ll be someone else. You just have to do what makes you happy and hope that someone else will ‘get it’. Im fortunate that other folks ‘get it’. Like Sam Coomes (singer of the U.S. band QUASI) once said in a song, ‘No it won’t last…it never does. But it’s better to be a has-been than to be a never-was.’