“‘Style’ is a really pretty word for ‘imperfection’. Every artist tries to manifest his slant on reality, and the imperfections of that look, the deviations from the norm, are his ‘style’.
Jermaine Rogers has been a mainstay in the rock poster art scene for over a decade. He works at his headquarters in Manitou Springs, CO, continuously crafting images that push boundaries, whether social, cultural, or aesthetic. For a handful of years now, I’ve been a fan of the way he tends to prod certain issues, often provoking responses that radiate in every direction. His prints are of the highest quality, color-fades and detail that make a $50 print feel like the find of a lifetime. Jermaine’s been able to garner a steady following since the explosion of the rock poster/ screen print scene, and after a review of his work, it’s no wonder. Covering everything from prints of Jimi Hendrix, to posters for the likes of Radiohead, Ween, and The Deftones, he’s more than established himself amidst a growing sea of talent. His ability to as he says, be a “chameleon,” really allows him to cast a wide net. His skill as an illustrator is exhibited in every print, as he’s in no hurry to crank out mediocre work.
Jermaine has also experienced staggering success with his vinyl figures, which have all sold out extremely quickly. He’s proud of what he’s achieved, but exudes a desire to continue to evolve. Rock poster art was born in a time and place where psychedelia was the name of the game, and Jermaine has been able to follow in that tradition. What I appreciate, is that he’s taken the time to ask meaningful questions about the world around him, via his work. Art’s not only about beauty, it’s also about sharing your view of the world. Thankfully for you and I, Jermaine is dead set on saying what he has to say, through incredibly made, expertly conceived prints.
Here is my interview with Jermaine Rogers…
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Evan: Alright man, you ready?
JR: Yea, I hope you don’t mind, I’m eating popcorn while I talk to you.
E: (Laughs) No problem at all brother…
JR: (Laughs) It’s the first thing I’ve eaten all day….
E: Word, do what you gotta do! I’m glad to do this interview man, I’ve been into your stuff for a while. There were a few prints that I thought were fantastic that you released a while back. I’m thinking of the “My Brother Was A Hero” print and it’s variant.
E: As soon as I saw those prints, I liked that the variant that wasn’t the exact same image, and I immediately projected the Israeli/Palestinian conflict onto those two pieces. I’m interested in what was going on in your head when you put those together.
JR: Yes, you were right: that’s what I meant to put into it. For me, it was a statement on that whole thing. I used the rabbits in a few concert prints a long time ago, and then I didn’t use them for many years. Then in 2004 I used the rabbit in conjunction with another character, called Squire, who’s been on several posters. I’ve also rendered Squire as a vinyl toy figure. He’s a pig-like-creature with a human head. In the story that I loosely told through several prints, he seemed to exercise control over this group of rabbits, and it seemed as though he was instigating some conflict between these rabbits and a wild band of raccoons. The rabbits and the raccoons were primarily struggling over an area of woodland that they both felt entitled to. So, I already had that story kinda going, and I’m not done with it yet….the raccoons could in many ways represent the Palestinian people, while the rabbits are the Israeli people. Squire is representing an outside influence that’s manipulating both sides. I’ll let you guess who that represents……
It’s a very charged situation, to state the obvious. And I try to erase my programming, you know? All the rhetoric we hear on the news and from Washington can really steal away your objectivity if you allow it. Obviously, much of the western world has a decided ‘favorite’ in the whole deal. I’d like to really look at it from both sides, not just from the viewpoint that is popular to the particular area on the planet where I just happened to be born. I mean, can you imagine if somebody came into your town where you were raised and where your father was raised, and where his father was raised…and came into your house and told you that that land didn’t really belong to you?
E: It’s really beyond comprehension.
JR: Yea, ya know….then (imagine) they took your rights away, and maybe one of their soldiers killed your uncle, or did worse to other members of your family…you wouldn’t strap a bomb onto yourself just to make a ‘statement’. That would be a very thought out, guttural act. Totally insane, but relative ‘patriotism’. In most of my prints, I’m not trying to score a point for either side, I’m just observing. I think when I can take these heavy human issues and depict them in a world of little weird, albeit cute, animals, it really drives some points home in a way that is strangely poignant.
I do like to release variants posters from time to time, sometimes just printing the same image on a different color paper or changing a certain color here and there. For a while, Id been thinking about doing a real variant…..where the image is an actual variation on the idea. So it’s an entirely different image. In ‘My Brother Was A Hero’, the variant depicted the struggle from a western perspective. There are a lot of heroic young men and women sacrificing everything so you and I can sit around and intellectualize about art.
JR: I’m gonna do more of the ‘true variant’ thing, I thought people really dug that. They’re truly variants, aesthetically.
E: Most definitely. I also wanted to ask you about Hendrix, you seem to come back to him every once in a while…..I think a lot of us have felt a certain void since Jimi Hendrix…
JR: Well, first of all from an artistic point of view, Hendrix is really fun to draw. He has these standout features that you can anchor the drawing on. Very eccentric and beautiful to look at. The dude was a modern day god of culture, like some creature from mythology… & he looked like it. I really love the music and am a really big fan of what he stood for: true intellectual and spiritual freedom. Not being trapped by this big illusion all around us…cause that’s all it is. None of it is ‘real’. In no way do I think I’m anywhere near as talented as he was, but I can identify with him as an African-American artist in a genre that is dominated by White Americans. True enough, you’ve got a couple other African-American guys working in fringe pockets of the rock/pop poster art field, but as far the art of modern rock crowd, I’m the guy. I find it interesting how he (Jimi) wrote about how he felt like he couldn’t connect with anyone. As a black male you often have to be a chameleon and sometimes people misinterpret that. And a lot of times, because we’re only human, we may try too hard, or not try enough, or might come off wrong. So on some level, I identify with him there.
E: Yea man, that’s interesting to me. I definitely think there was an aspect of Jimi that you’re alluding to, in that his ideas were different than most everyone’s, but that there was also a racial component to how Jimi thought about the way he fit in. You also did the print entitled “Uncle,”where you depict a black Uncle Sam. I also heard you mention recently that racially-based prints don’t necessarily sell as well….
JR: It’s funny because I know exactly who my target audience is. And primarily, concert posters appeal to white males 18 – 45…
E: I mean that’s who rock music is sold to…
JR: Right. Definitely. I did a print last year called, “To Be Young Gifted and Black,” where old Uncle Sam is saying to this black kid, “see boy, we’re building a prison just for you!” When I did that print, it wasn’t long after Obama was inaugurated, so there was this touchy-feely honeymoon period racially. The day that I released the print, I was told there was a lot of talk online in different poster-art forums, and that some people were making what others felt were borderline racist statements, both veiled and overt. I got a few emails from people saying they loved the print, but I also got emails where people asked why I felt the need to stir it up, and asked why I couldn’t put that kind of negativity behind me. (One email I received) mentioned that the racial climate had definitely changed since Obama got elected, etc etc…..
What’s funny is that I can take you to neighborhoods back in Houston where, the fact that Obama got elected, changes absolutely nothing. They’re still gonna get profiled by cops, treated weird and what not. You know, a few years ago I was in Houston and we were coming home from a movie, my wife and I. My wife is Italian. We’re driving home, through the museum district, which is pretty nice, and the cops pull me over. Now, it was the first time we had been pulled over in a car together. The cop asked for my license and registration, I gave it to him. He then comes back, gives me back my stuff. Then the cop walks around the side of the car to her window, looks around in the car, and then says, “Maam, are you sure you’re alright? Seriously, is everything ok?” At that point I just burst out laughing…see, cause I knew exactly what it was all about. She got very upset because that kind of thing doesn’t happen to her folks. That’s the difference, and that’s why some people see a print like the one I mentioned and give me an ‘Amen!’ and others see it and roll their eyes and are like, ‘Oh please…’. I understand what a critic of a print like that is saying, cause so many people wear that junk into the ground looking for sympathy or whatever. But, I think the recent atmosphere in this country demonstrates that the race thing never went away. It can’t, because it’s deeper than race: it’s very much socio-economic. So, I’m gonna continue to release those kinds of prints. And I welcome the hate: I’d feel strange if I didn’t get it. You need some people to hate your art work! In many ways, those people legitimize you.
E: …and I think someone like yourself who is broaching social and cultural issues, is really an exception in the scene. I think the fact that art can reflect what’s going on in society is hugely important. That’s why I’ve bought the prints you’ve done that make a statement. I think there’s a need for that.
JR: This is weird man, but early on my subject matter was all over the place, and it could be for any band. I would just do whatever I wanted to do, and my only water mark would be that the artwork had to, at the very least, fit the vibe of the band. It was total freedom, and many folks who really long for prints like the ones I did years ago will tell you that there is a difference. Here’s what’s interesting: all that was before poster art blew up. Suddenly things changed quite a bit. Before, the standard way to do prints was through promoters, who got permission from the band, and basically the artist would make money selling extra posters that he or she overran. The band always had the legal right to tell you not to sell, but the bands pretty much looked the other way because it gave them added credibility in the scene.
After things blew up, there was a need to get your self together. The business of posters changed, and so many artists who wanted more light shone on our little thing had to understand that with that extra attention came added responsibility. You have to do things the right way. Merchandise companies are now very much interested in how much money is being made on rock art posters. I know many merchandise suit-and-tie types, and they definitely watch certain artists who just do things through promoters and then sell thousands of dollars worth of product. And they just quietly record everything they see. Years ago, I decided to go straight to the bands, rather than dance around with a promoter who really doesn’t have the right to give you permission to make a print to sell for money. I’d worked with enough people and formed enough relationships with bands and their managements that I figured I didn’t need to mess around. I was like, I’ve known Chino (from Deftones) for years, I’m gonna work directly with them. I’ve known Josh Homme for a long time, Im just going to call him when I want to do Queens Of The Stone Age stuff. Or I’m just gonna work with Ween, or Alice In Chains, or Tool, or Radiohead, or whatever. This was a big change. Now that I’m working directly with the band, they can call me up and tell me they want it a certain way. If I’ve been hired directly, I feel like I’ve gotta do something that’s appropriate for that band. When the barrier was lifted (promoters), cool, I’m working with the band, but the artwork is more band-specific. So right there, a lot of the art changed, you know. I can’t always make social statements or use recognizable personalities in culture, or slag some corporate entity…all the things I used to LOVE doing. Because Im working directly for a client that is paying me to be very ‘them-specific’. You know what I mean? But, I’ve been thinking about it. I’m gonna start pushing the envelope again. I miss the freedom of no accountability. (Laughs)
E: (Laughs) For sure man….I definitely understand, (laughs)….
JR: I’ve spent much of the last couple of years painting, designing toys, and only doing concert posters for my friends. I’m really ready to turn my attention back to poster art, we’ll see what happens…..
E: Sooo dude, are there anymore Jermaine toys coming out? I saw you were part of the film The Vinyl Frontier, fun flick…
JR: I’m fortunate, all of my figures have been successful. I think I did a few that will stand the test of time. I recently got an email from Paul Budnitz (president of KidRobot) being very kind about my toy history and saying how it was among a handful of things he really liked. That makes me feel good, because that guy sees everything. I can’t talk too much about what I’m doin’ now, though…
E: Fair enough! (Laughs)
JR: (Laughs) I just submitted turnarounds for two different figures…I’m in talks with a company that everybody knows (wink). Until it goes into production, we’re keepin’ it quiet. I’ve also got a bronze figure coming out soon, and then another life-size Squire variant, it’s gonna trip people out…
E: Unreal man…
JR: The life-size Squire pieces we did a few years ago sold out instantly, so did the Comic-Con edition of 10. Well, we’ve got one more Squire variation coming. I also did a large fiberglass Dero figure that’s gonna be 3.5 ft tall: you can stand it up somewhere in your house, and it’ll freak people out when they see it (laughs)….
E: (Laughs) Oh man…
JR: (Laughs) Yea man, the toy thing is going good. I’ve got a lot of stuff being made, it’s all in production. So when it’s time to start releasing stuff, it’ll be like bam, bam, bam!
E: You’ve also been involved in a group project with a few other high profile names in the art of modern rock scene, Justin Hampton and Emek, called Post Neo Explosionism. I wanted to find out a bit more about the project, how’s that been?
JR: It’s been cool. When PNE started, we just wanted to do something that was a celebration of each other’s art. We did a show in Seattle in 2002 and that went very well. There was never any feeling that we had to prove anything to each other. At the time we started PNE, Justin Hampton had enjoyed the most success in the field. And then later on I was able to hustle and do a lot of stuff. In the last few years, Emek has really blown up. People sometimes think that we have to outdo each other, but it was never like that. Make no mistake, when you’ve got three ego’s in the same arena, things happen. There definitely have been times when each one of us has had an ego moment…
E: You are humans after all…
JR: Exactly, but ya know, it’s cool. If you’re not careful, other people can stir things up. I can’t read the internet poster forum boards anymore man. I love the people on those things, but there are always a few who voice their opinions in a weird way. Some people develop a hatred for your artwork that is puzzling to watch. It becomes personal. Every thing you do, they’ll find the flaw and point it out. When you do those really good pieces, the ones that everyone applaud…well, they’re conspicuously silent then. But, it’s all very necessary. Those people have a right to their opinions and that’s what art IS. Those forums are a good thing, but I personally don’t read them because I don’t want to be influenced. People will tell you what they want to see, what they don’t want to see, what you should be doing, what you suck at, why you’re one of the greats, why you’re overrated…you know. That’s their job, too. My job is to ignore all of it.
E: For sure. It’s like if you were a ball player, would you want to read the sports section every day?
JR: Exaaaaaactly. I was telling an artist that the other day. Just take one of the biggest rock bands out there, U2. There are people who would pull out every tooth in their head and give it to you, if they could spend 60 seconds in a room with Bono. You know what I’m saying? By the same token, there are people that hate Bono. They hate U2. They think the music, the pose, the whole package is crap. I mean, what if old Bono took all of that stuff to heart? All the comments in forums on the internet, good and bad. He would go crazy! Don’t get it twisted, every artist cares about what people think of their work. I don’t care what they say. You put your work out there, and that comes from deep inside of you. You’re interested to see if people get it, or if people think it’s good.
If I release a print and it sells out, I’ll know that people liked it enough for it to have been worth my time. But I don’t read the boards because I don’t want to know what people want. I don’t want to know what people think I should be doing, it could inadvertently influence what I want to do. In the past, it has.
E: Word. And I think we both could point to instances with either artists or musicians, where you can identify a point in time when they started to create what they thought people wanted from them. The work loses the life force that drew you to it in the first place…
JR: Yea ya know, be true to yourself and do what you want to do. Some bands are weird tho. With some bands, hey, let’s face it, they start sucking when they start doing exactly what they want to do. I mean, there was a point when that joker Sting was a pimp! (Laughs) And then he started doin’ what he wanted to do and…..(Laughs). Jazz-classical fusion Sting makes me nuts. I prefer ‘white reggae’ Sting. So, all that said, I fully accept that what I want to do might really, truly suck, but it’s what I want to do. You’re blessed if anybody cares at all. Things are always changing, but I think the key is to make art you feel comfortable with. So go ‘head on, Sting. Rule that adult-contemporary wasteland.
E: It seems that you’re very lucky in that people respond to your work one way or another….
JR: Yes, Im fortunate. That’s all I really wanted. Love or hate. Anything but apathy. I’ve fortunately always had enough people who like the stuff, and they are the ones who finance it. The prints still sell out. You lose some collectors, and they’re replaced by new folks. You know, whatever. I definitely had to learn to not take myself so seriously. When I look at things, I see that I’m not the best, I just have my own style. That’s all that style is. ‘Style’ is a really pretty word for ‘imperfection’. Every artist tries to manifest his slant on reality, and the imperfections of that look, the deviations from the norm, are his ‘style’. You just kinda learn to say, ‘you know what dude, I’m fortunate to be able to do this.’ You just relax and things don’t bother you. It’s been 15 years and I’m still here.
E: Art is relative man. We all like different things. I think it’s a testament to your work that there’s disagreement about your different pieces….
JR: I’d like to think so. I obviously find some value in what I do. I’ve always hated the idea that there was a ‘proper’ way to do things…or that there was ‘good’ art and ‘bad’ art. That’s so stupid. There are these self-appointed experts in every genre of art, you know. They can explain to you why something should appeal to you and why other things are worthless. It’s just so tired. The work I do is very much a casual exercise. Nothing is extremely strategized. It is what it is, and it’s based on how I’m feeling when I do it. And guess what, a lot of it is overrated, (Laughs) and a lot of it is a hustle. It’s always been that way. Whether it’s Davinci hustling for the Catholic Church or Warhol hustling New York City. I remember years ago in the early days online, I’d get on there and hustle. It was a much smaller place back then and the rock poster art community was much smaller as well. I was doing my little ghetto Warhol (Laughs)….making people think they needed what they don’t need, as he would say. I look back at some of that and cringe (Laughs) but realize that I was one guy and no one, outside of a limited circle of fans, was waving my flag. It was just me. So I worked it the only way I knew how. Again, sometimes you try to hard…and you come off looking like an idiot. I’ve been there. But, it’s all good. I really believed in my work, and I wanted others to see why they needed to believe in it as well. Honestly, there was a genuine earnestness to all of it. I was fighting for my life.
E: Gotta let people know what you’re up to! It’s been fun Jermaine. Thanks for letting me into your head a little bit…
JR: I appreciate it. Hopefully people won’t misinterpret anything, but I know they will (Laughs).
E: Peace dude….
JR: Later man…