Dogfish 2014 seasonal artist Jermaine Rogers finds freedom in the weird
Jermaine Rogers never thought his art would take him very far, and for a while he was alright with that.
He was happy enough collecting a check from the Houston planetarium and drawing little flyers for bands on the side. It was the early '90s, and music was changing. The Seattle sound was making its way to Texas, and Jermaine dug it. Club owners hired him to help promote up-and-comers like Soundgarden and The Melvins when they passed through town.
Sure, when he was younger, filling sketchbooks with Optimus Prime and coveting freshly sharpened pencils the way other kids coveted new toys, he dreamed of drawing for a living. But his teachers and other well-meaning adults had shut the door on that dream. The flyers and 'zine covers kept him in touch with his creativity. Besides, he'd get tickets to the shows, maybe 50 bucks, and the chance to be part of something.
"I had no illusions that it would become anything huge," he says. "It was just something that I wanted to do."
Then Jermaine saw a poster by the artist Frank Kozik, and it was the beginning of what you might call his come-to-Jesus moment.
'The guts to go there'
"The first Frank Kozik piece I saw was this poster with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, and they were barbecuing Jesus," Jermaine says. "I couldn't believe it. That was it."
It wasn't Kozik's take on Christianity that spoke to him. It was, as Jermaine says, "the freedom of the thing."
"He had the guts to go there on a poster for a rock 'n' roll show," Jermaine says. "I mean, imagine you're in Hong Kong and everything around you is in Chinese. The signs around you are in Chinese, everybody's talking Chinese. Then you hear someone speaking English. That's how I felt when I saw Frank's work. That dude speaks my language."
Years later, it was another Kozik piece that helped lock in Jermaine's new course. This time, it was for a Nirvana show. Two tow-headed kids were hugging a freaked-out bug-eyed fox. It was '93, and Nirvana was huge.
"I just thought of all the people who were going to see that poster," says Jermaine. "To an artist, that's like heroin. I had this sort-of epiphany. I said, 'You know what? I can do that.' "
Not too long after that, Jermaine came home after a day at the planetarium, flipped on the TV and started making something to eat. A commercial came on for the U.S. Army. "You've read stories of other people's lives," the narrator said. "When are you going to start writing your own?"
"The very next day I went into the planetarium and gave notice," Jermaine says. "Two weeks later, I had to move into a hole-in-the-wall place and I sold my car. The starving artist years began."
Jermaine's gamble on artistic freedom paid off. It took time, hard work and some questionable cuisine, but he kicked down the door the naysayers had closed on him. These days, the Vienna sausage sandwiches are a distant memory. Jermaine is at the top of his game, best known for his modern rock poster art, but also concentrating on fine art and design. He's created artwork for Radiohead, Neil Young, David Bowie, The Deftones, Eddie Vedder and hundreds of others, and his work is a favorite of collectors.
Things have changed for Jermaine, but his early inclination to stay true to himself – no matter where that fickle and often outrageous self leads him – is still his guide.
"I don't want anybody raining on my dream," he says. "I want to do all the weird stuff I like to do."
Even when Jermaine is working with a band, it's often his whims – rather than the music – that inform the poster. That didn't always sit well with clients.
"It's often just a matter of what I feel like doing," he says. "That cost me jobs early on. Sometimes I'd do what I want and people didn't like it. But I was lucky, because more often than not, they did. That was the freedom I had that those teachers told me I couldn't have."
It was Jermaine's skewed take on life that attracted the attention of Dogfish Founder and President Sam Calagione. For several years, Sam and his co-workers have commissioned rock 'n' roll artists to create a series of posters to accompany Dogfish Head's annual seasonal releases. Each year's artist then recommends a few of his or her favorite artists to be considered for the next year.
"That way, we celebrate the camaraderie in the art world the way we celebrate the camaraderie in the beer world," says Sam. "Our 2013 artist, Jim Mazza, turned us on to Jermaine. We loved his combination of colors and his off-centered approach to emotionally-animated-animal-artsy awesomeness. And his heroes are our heroes, too, especially Warhol."
Jermaine, who splits his time between Brooklyn and Houston with his wife Jennifer and 9-year-old daughter Gabriella, created a series of creatures that will adorn the labels of each Dogfish Head seasonal: Aprihop in spring, Festina Peche in summer, Punkin Ale in fall and Piercing Pils in winter. Prints of all four, going for $50 each, will go on sale when Aprihop is released, and T-shirts will drop with each season.
Jermaine is a dreamer – you'd better believe he thinks art can change the world – but he's also a doer. Those closed doors he's run into time and again are no match for his curiosity and willingness to sacrifice his own comfort.
"I never make decisions based on security," he says. "So much fear and worry, so many what-ifs, are based on this really abstract thing called the unknown. I like to use art as a springboard. Don't be afraid to admit that everything you know could be wrong. If art and culture can teach you to be that open-minded, if you can let that bleed into how you feel about politics and religion and family, you might be surprised. You might start going around the rooms of your mind and kicking doors to see which ones fall in."
"The bunnies are one of the more recognized characters I've done. My wife and I originally intended to have no children, so we got some bunnies on a whim ... so I would sit around sometimes and just draw them. I always liked the juxtaposition of drawing these cute little animals that are a little bit weird."
"I've used the racoons to interact with the bunnies. ... You hold up a squirrel and kids will think that's cute. You hold up a rat, and they're like 'That's gross!' And the only difference is the tail. I like to draw and mix things that get a reaction."
"The first time I used these bears on a poster was for KMFDM back in 1995, and ever since then I've built a whole universe around them. I call them dero. It's the idea that things are happening in our society and our world and our history, and they're happening for a reason. There are unseen hands pulling the strings."
"The cat is something I pulled out new for this. I needed to perfect a cat, so hopefully people like it."