3RD WHEEL Magazine, March 2002
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
'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?:
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,
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.:
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,
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.'
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