Derek Hess hosts “31 Days in May” mental health awareness book event
May 17, 2018 | By Laura DeMarco
The 2016 documentary “Forced Perspective” was a bit of a coming out for lauded Cleveland artists Derek Hess.
It was the first time Hess publicly opened up about the two diseases that have affected him since his teens: alcoholism and bipolar disorder.
“It was cathartic,” he said at the time. “I think a number of years ago, I would have been really self-conscious about it. Now that I’m older, I really did not care. The alcoholism and bipolar is really such a huge part of the story, it definitely had had to be incorporated.”
Opening up in the movie also proved cathartic for fans of Hess’ art and the heavy music that so many of his gig posters illustrated. It was a taboo-breaking moment in the heavily masculine scene.
“I started getting emails, guys being excited I was talking about this, being open and starting a dialogue. I had no hesitations about opening up publicly, so I think when I started talking about (mental illness) it came as kind of a surprise to me how many people were happy I was bringing it up.”
The reaction to “Forced Perspective” led to an innovative project Hess undertook last May, Mental Health Awareness Month. Each day for 31 days, he posted a drawing or illustration to social media that showcased his on-going battle with bipolar disorder and substance abuse.
“The response was overwhelming,” says Hess. “People were excited I was talking openly. It’s not a taboo I’m pulling back the curtain.”
The response was so great Hess was inspired to make his 2018 Mental Health Awareness project more permanent: he just published the 150 page hardcover book “31 Days In May: A Visual Journey” (StrhessPress), which compiles the images from last year’s posts, and more. Hess looks at the link between art and mental health from a personal perspective, with 120 illustrations and drawings addressing themes of loneliness, addiction, relationships, depression and suicide.
The book adds context and description to each image, one per day.
“Now is the proper time in our culture to be talking about this,” says Hess, “with the #metoo movement and other things being openly talked about. It’s a good time to start talking about things without being labeled,” says Hess.
“31 Days in May” concludes with “Ink,” a chapter featuring tattoos of Hess’ images that fans have gotten. Along with their pictures, many share personal stories of trauma. “We’re grateful to all of them for sharing their ink and their deeply personal stories” says the text.
“Art has always had a therapeutic side to me,” says Hess. “I try to be honest dealing with emotions. (Art) has has given me insight into my issues at the time. … I hope it helps other people deal with their issues, too.”
Hess has been on the road promoting “31 Days in May” across the country all month. Instead of galleries, he’s been appearing at schools, libraries and mental health organizations.
Hess returns home for a signing at his own gallery at the 78th Street Studios, 1300 West 78th Street, from 6 – 9 p.m. Friday, May 18.
A portion of all book sales on the tour will be donated to Hope For The Day and Mental Health America organizations.
“That was absolutely important,” says Hess. “This is about bringing awareness and being able to help an organization that gives people outlets and outreach.”