Derek Hess Spreading Mental Health Awareness With New Book “31 Days in May”

Fri 5/18 @ 5-9PM

The poster boy is now the poster boy. That’s just fine for internationally-renowned artist and Cleveland’s own Derek Hess, who for decades has been revered and celebrated in both the music and art world for his rock show flyers and album covers.

During the majority of that time the world didn’t know the rock ’n’ roll artist was dealing with mental illness and substance abuse. Then, in short order, Hess was the subject of the award-winning 2014 documentary Forced Perspective, which chronicled his art, life and struggles. This led to Hess’ arts festival for mental health and addiction awareness, the Acting Out! Fest.

Last year during May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, Hess posted a daily image to his social media outlets that showcased his ongoing battle with bipolar disorder and substance abuse. The images spoke to many others who also were dealing with similar issues.

To spread awareness around this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, Hess is touring his recently released book 31 Days in May, which chronicles and expands upon last year’s social media posts. A book signing is scheduled Fri 5/18 @ 5-9pm at the Derek Hess Gallery at 78th Street  Studios.

CoolCleveland caught up with Hess, who was calling from Santa Ana, California.

CoolCleveland: Derek, congrats on the book. Did you have 31 Days in May in mind when you started posting images last year?

Derek Hess: No, not at all. Every day for the month of May being Mental Health Month we put up an image and a description of how the image pertained to mental health and/or my own issues. So after last year, reassessing everything, we thought, why don’t we do this again, but just do it as a book, put it out for May and do a tour. The nice thing about the book is you can put up more than one picture per day, whereas on Instagram and Facebook I could only do one image.

CC: So did you design last year’s images with mental illness in mind or were these pieces you had sitting around?

DH: These were existing images. I found which image would pertain to whatever the issue might be for that day, which is easy for me because I have plenty of issues to choose from. That’s how we get the images together. I like the project too because there’s so much stuff I’ve done that would never get published. This opportunity came up for more people to see this artwork than the person who bought the original piece.

CC: Going back to last year, what was the reaction from your postings?

DH: The people were just really happy that somebody was talking about this openly and working on pulling the curtain back and getting rid of this negative stigma of mental illness. It seems like in our society and in our culture it’s the right time to start talking about this stuff. I think the people are open enough to hear me out or hear people out who are struggling with mental illness and dual diagnosis. Hopefully they’re starting to understand we’re not “crazy.” We’re just dealing with something that we have, just like other people might have diabetes.

CC: These are obviously unique times we’re living in, with the mental health issue no longer hidden in a closet. As somebody who is seen as a bellwether in the discussion, is there a sense that you want to do everything possible before the door shuts?

DH: As far as the door being shut, we’re basically kicking that door down. With the #MeToo movement, it’s time for that as well. It’s time to start talking about the things that were considered taboo. I feel very hopeful that this won’t just go away. And I don’t think it can go away because too many people are affected by it. Everybody knows somebody or is dealing with bipolar, schizophrenia, personality disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction. It touches all aspects of society.

CC: That includes professional athletes. How important was Kevin Love’s announcement earlier this year about his panic attacks?

DH: I think it’s great that he brought that up publicly. People are going to start talking about this. That’s huge with him talking about it, especially amongst the sports culture. The very stereotypical males are raised in America that big boys don’t cry and tough it out. It’s very cool and makes me proud because he’s a Cleveland Cavalier.

CC: Regarding your Acting Out Festival. Any chance it’s going to return in 2018?

DH: It’s being talked about. But there are no definite plans for the Acting Out Festival. I’d like to see it happen again. There’s momentum right now, and it’s a good time to be talking about this. We’ll discuss that once the book tour is over.

CC: It’s kind of funny how life works. Did you ever imagine your artistic talents would have such a positive impact on the mental health issue discussion?

DH: Who would have known 10 years ago, five years ago? I’ve become open discussing my bipolar, dual diagnosis issues a number of years ago. I’m very open about it, and it doesn’t bother me to talk about it. I was pleasantly surprised with the reaction. I just kind of fell into being the poster boy for this.

CC: So the poster boy is now the poster boy.

DH: I think you’re right.


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